A $20 million (€17.11 million)campaign to bring 5,500 artefacts from the Titanic back to Belfast has been launched.
Three Northern Ireland-based bodies, including Titanic Belfast, have teamed up with Royal Museums Greenwich to secure the collection, which is at risk of being split up and sold to private collectors.
Premier Exhibitions, which currently owns the collection via a subsidiary called RMS Titanic Inc, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States in June 2016.
The 5,500 artefacts were recovered from the seabed over the course of seven deepsea expeditions between 1987 and 2004. The collection is believed to include the ship’s whistles, jewellery, luggage, porcelain dishes, floor tiles, silver cutlery and an unopened bottle of champagne.
It also includes a 7x4 metre section of the ship’s hull, and a bronze cherub decoration from its grand staircase.
The four organisations behind the campaign - which also includes National Museums Northern Ireland and Titanic Foundation - announced details of the initiative at Titanic Belfast, the exact location where the famous boat was designed, built and launched.
If successful, the bid would secure the entirety of the Titanic Artefacts Collection in public ownership in perpetuity. Additionally, the organisations will seek to obtain the salvage rights to the wreck site, and assign them to the National Maritime Museum and National Museum Northern Ireland.
Dr Robert Ballard, the famed oceanographer who discovered the RMS Titanic wreck in 1985, and James Cameron, director of the Oscar-winning 1997 movie and a deep-see diver, have offered their backing for the plan.
National Geographic Society chief executive Michael L Ulica also announced his organisation's support for the campaign with a pledge of $500,000 towards the fund.
“The Titanic disaster was an unprecedented tragedy that captivated the world and still resonates with many people today. The repatriation of the shipwreck’s artefacts presents an historic opportunity to honour the Titanic’s lasting legacy and the memories of all who perished,” he said.
The Titanic was a luxury steam ship built in Belfast and described as being unsinkable. It sank in the early hours of April 15th 1912, off the coast of Newfoundland after it hit an iceberg during its maiden voyage. Of the 2,240 passengers and crew on board, more than 1,500 lost their lives in the disaster.
More than four million people from around the world have visited Titanic Belfast since it opened in 2012. It experienced its busiest year to date in 2017 welcoming 841,563 visitors, up 13 per cent on the previous year.