`Titanic' salvage is vandalism, relatives say

RELATIVES of Belfast shipyard workers involved in building the Titanic have described a venture to raise a section of the ship…

RELATIVES of Belfast shipyard workers involved in building the Titanic have described a venture to raise a section of the ship as "vandalism".

Mr John Parkinson (89), a former Harland and Wolff joiner and chairman of the Ulster Titanic Society, said the shipwreck was a grave site and should be left in peace.

Many Irish, including some Harland and Wolff management, were among the 1,513 passengers who perished when the ship foundered after hitting an iceberg some 400 miles south of Newfoundland in 1912. This week's salvage effort was "a sad symbol of the lengths man will go to further his greed", Mr Parkinson said.

The plan by the "salvor in possession" to haul up a 25-ton section and transport it to New York harbour next weekend has been condemned widely in the US.


Mr George Tulloch, a former BMW dealer whose company, RMS Titanic Inc, has legal rights to the wreck by federal court order, has been described as a grave-robber and publicity hound. However, he has argued that the Titanic - labelled "the ship God himself could not sink" - and its artefacts are being "consumed" by the Atlantic and should be retrieved for posterity.

As part of the salvage effort, two cruise ships have been commissioned, costing thousands of dollars per berth. Passengers have been promised a "fully illuminated" view of the salvage in progress, as the upper hull section with six portholes is hauled from a depth of 2 1/2 miles below sea level.

In a full-page advertisement in USA Today, Mr Tulloch described it as a "once-in-a-lifetime experience", similar, he said, to "meeting Napoleon or being the first to come upon the pyramids of Egypt".

Mr Parkinson, whose father worked on the ship's construction and who saw the ship sail himself from Belfast as a small boy, told The Irish Times that he was saddened to hear of the cruises.

Some 4,000 artefacts have been retrieved by Mr Tulloch's company since the ship was located by the US oceanographer, Dr Robert Ballard, in 1987, but this has "added nothing" to the ship's story, Mr Parkinson said. It had only "contributed to the coffers of RMS Titanic Inc", he added.

"The excuse so far is that the artefacts are being saved for future generations and the wreck is being saved from total destruction," Mr Parkinson said.

"Surely, the only destruction that is going on is that by the scavengers. The wreck has lain in peace and solitude for nearly 80 years, a fitting resting place for those who went down with her. A section of the hull is about to break the surface, and instead of greeting it with reverence, it will be met with fireworks and a flotilla."

The actor Burt Reynolds, the former astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, and three survivors of the 1912 shipwreck have been hired by HMS Titanic Inc to attend the event.

Souvenirs are already on sale - such as a lump of the ship's coal at $25 dollars.

The vice-president of the US Titanic Historical Society, Ms Karen Kamuda, has compared Mr Tulloch's efforts to selling tickets to the TWA Flight 800 recovery efforts off Long Island.

The Ulster Titanic Society described the strength of feeling of its members - some of whom lost relatives in the sinking - as "very high". Not only was the ship built with Belfast labour, but Northern linen was used extensively throughout the vessel.

The society holds an annual "April 2nd dinner" to commemorate the day the Titanic left Belfast, and has planned a convention next year at which it hopes to "face RMS Titanic Inc" and articulate its concerns.