James Cameron on a middle path through the Titanic ruins | ET REALITY


Ocean experts have long disagreed over whether artifacts from the world’s most famous shipwreck should be recovered for exhibits that could help people better understand the Titanic tragedy or whether they should be left intact in the depths of the sea as a monument to the tragedy. more than 1,500 people who lost their lives. their lives. James Cameron, known for his 1997 film “Titanic,” sees himself negotiating a middle path through this complicated and often emotional dispute.

Cameron dove 33 times on the wreck between 1995 and 2005, giving him insight into its condition and likely fate. His perspective is timely because the U.S. government recently attempted to exert control over the wreck, raising questions about whether a company that has recovered more than 5,500 artifacts you will be allowed to gather more.

Cameron’s views are also deeply personal. He often debated the recoveries with Paul-Henri Nargeolet, a French submariner who died in June while descending to the wreck in the submersible Titan. Mr. Nargeolet also led underwater investigations for RMS Titanic Inc.the company that owns the exclusive rights to salvage the ship and its artifacts.

Cameron recently answered email questions from the New York Times about his views on the recovery, the future of the Titanic and the Titan submersible. This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Did you see signs of natural deterioration during your 10 years of diving on the Titanic?

We have seen significant deterioration in thin-walled structures such as the deckhouse (the highest deck above the ship’s deck) and the foremast. It was intact (in its fallen position) in 2001, but partially collapsed in 2005. New images from the Magellan company in 2022 show that it completely collapsed and broke.

However, we have not seen any significant deterioration on the vast majority of the wreck, such as the hull plates. Its steel is one and a half inches thick. I think the plates will still stand for at least another two centuries.

What about damage caused by visitors? Something obvious?

In my experience maneuvering around the wreck and landing on it, submersibles don’t do anything significant. Up above, a submersible weighs several tons, but down there, in order to fly, it must be neutrally buoyant, meaning it lands with only a few pounds of force.

Furthermore, everything we humans do is trivial compared to the relentless deterioration caused by biological activity, which continues year after year. The Titanic is being devoured by living colonies of bacteria. They love it when humans dump giant piles of steel into the depths of the ocean, something we do with some regularity, especially in wars. It’s a party for them.

Regarding the Titanic artifacts, you describe yourself as a centrist among conservationists like Robert D. Ballard and saviors like Paul-Henri Nargeolet, who died in June on the Titan submersible. How is that?

On the one hand, I think it’s good to recover artifacts from the debris field. When the Titanic broke in two on the surface, they were left like two large piñatas. For square miles, we see plates and wine bottles, suitcases, shoes: things that people carried with them, touched and used.

This humanizes the story and reminds us that tragedy has a human face. So many artifacts have been recovered that poignantly connect us to this story, such as the crow’s nest bell that was rung three times by lookout Frederick Fleet when he first saw the iceberg. Now, millions of museum visitors can see it with their own eyes. I’ve even called it myself. And there are plenty of examples of the Titanic’s elegance: fine china, beaded chandeliers, the cherub statue on the Grand Staircase. It is the continued public interest in these things that keeps the story alive, now, 111 years after the sinking.

One gray area that leaves me torn is whether we should recover artifacts from inside the bow and stern sections. One case that I find compelling is that of the recovery of the Marconi set. This wireless system sent the SOS signal that led the rescue ship Carpathia to the exact coordinates of the Titanic and possibly saved the lives of more than 700 people.

The Titanic’s wireless device was unique, very different from others of its time. I’ve taken my little remotely operated vehicles inside to inspect Marconi’s rooms, so we know where everything is, and we’ve done computer reconstructions.

But displaying that instrument to the public would be very moving for millions of museum visitors. If it could be recovered without damaging the outer appearance of the wreck, I would be in favor, because that area of ​​the ship is deteriorating rapidly and within a few years the Marconi set will be buried deep in the ruins, irrecoverably . .

So anything goes?

Where I personally draw the line is changing the appearance of the shipwreck, such as raising its iconic bow (where Jack and Rose were in the movie), removing the powerful anchors, or removing the bronze telemotor from the bridge where Quartermaster Hitchens desperately turned the ship . He rolls trying to avoid the iceberg. Someone has discussed all of these recoveries at some point in the last quarter century. I don’t think we should remove anything from the bow and stern sections that would disfigure them. They should be erected as monuments to the tragedy.

I knew Mr. Nargeolet quite well. Did you have any disagreements with him and his company’s approach to artifact recovery?

He was a legendary sub-pilot and explorer, and we spent many exciting hours reviewing our Titanic videos and comparing notes. He recovered many of the artifacts, such as the crow’s nest bell, which I find so moving in the various exhibits around the world.

That said, I disagreed with him about some of his plans to bring back things like the bow anchors, although it was always a friendly discussion. I’m glad some of those plans never came to fruition.

Around 2017, he joined Dr Ballard and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, in an unsuccessful attempt to buy the collection of Titanic artefacts and move them to Belfast, where the ship was built. Because? And would you try again if the RMS Titanic went bankrupt again?

Our concern at the time was that the collection might have been purchased by a wealthy private collector and disappeared from public view. These artifacts belong to the world, as part of our shared cultural heritage – our collective history – and they help keep that history and palpable tragedy alive. But only if they can be seen and felt emotionally through public access. If the collection is at risk again in the future, I hope to have a say in keeping it accessible to the public.

What do you think of the federal government’s recent effort to exert control over the Titanic?

The Titanic is in international waters. I’m sure this fight will continue indefinitely.

Do you think the Titan disaster will have an impact on visitors to the Titanic?

Do I think it will stop people from wanting to witness the Titanic in person? Absolutely not. Human curiosity is a powerful force, and the urge to go and bear witness with one’s own eyes is very strong for some people, myself included.

But citizen explorers need to be more discerning about who they dive with. Is the sub fully certified by a recognized office? What is the safe operation history of the submersible company? These are the types of questions that need to be asked.

Would you go diving again?

I would get on a submarine tomorrow, if it were certified, like Woods Hole Oceanographic’s historic Alvin submarine or the submarines built by Triton Submersibles. But there is no rush to do anything. That familiar image of the arch will be there, just as it is, for at least half a century more.

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