Expeditions to recover Titanic artifacts have been a collaborative effort between RMS Titanic, Inc.; The French Oceanographic Institute; and the Moscow-based P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology. These expeditions have been conducted at the Titanic’s wreck site, located 963 miles northeast of New York and 453 miles southeast of the Newfoundland coastline, during the summers of 1987, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2004.
Nautile and MIR submersibles are used for the recovery in Expeditions 1987, 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1998; these machines are equipped with mechanical arms capable of scooping, grasping, and recovering the artifacts, which are then either collected in sampling baskets, or placed in lifting baskets. The crew compartment of each submersible accommodates three people – a pilot, a co-pilot, and an observer – who each have a one-foot-thick plastic porthole between themselves and the depths. Both submersibles have the capabilities of operating and deploying a remote-controlled vehicle (RCV) on a 110-foot tether which is then flown inside the wreck to record images.
In the 2004 Expedition, the Remora 6000 Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) was used for the recovery of objects. This ROV was controlled from the surface via ROV pilots.
It takes over two and a half hours to reach the Titanic wreck site. Each dive lasts about twelve to fifteen hours with an additional two hours to ascend to the surface. Each recovered artifact must then undergo conservation following carefully designed processes to remove rust and salt deposits from each object.
Pulling Items from the Deep
Once an artifact leaves the water and is exposed to the air, it must undergo an immediate stabilization process to prevent further deterioration. When recovered from salt water, artifacts are cleaned with a soft brush and placed in foam-lined tubs of fresh water. Once received at the conservation laboratory, contaminating surface salts are removed from each artifact. After a period of six months to two years, artifacts can be conserved using treatments that are compatible with each artifact’s construction materials.
For instance, metal objects are placed in a desalination bath and undergo the first steps of electrolysis, a process that removes negative ions and salt from the artifact. Electrolysis is now being used to remove salts from paper, leather, and wood as well. These materials also receive treatments of chemical agents and fungicides that remove rust and fungus from them.
Artifacts made of paper are first freeze-dried to remove water and are then cleaned with specialized vacuums and hand tools to remove dirt and debris. Leather artifacts are soaked or injected with a water-soluble wax which replaces voids previously filled by water and debris. Artifacts are displayed in specially designed cases where temperature, relative humidity and light levels can be controlled, protecting the artifacts from these three agents of deterioration. The artifacts displayed have been conserved and are continuously monitored and maintained so that they can be shown in the Exhibition as well as preserved for the future.