THE STUDY DECEMBER 5, 2011
If you have two free weeks and $60,000 to spare, The New York Times has a vacation idea to suggest: Go visit the Titanic on the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking. Visiting the wreckage is apparently popular among certain kinds of deep-pocketed tourists, but the practice is not without detractors: “Scientists and scholars worry about new damage to the famous ship,” the Times reports, resulting in large part from carelessness and clumsiness. Passing cruise ships dump garbage and beer cans on the wreckage, and some visitors have even “accidentally bumped into the increasingly fragile wreck.” Are there no laws protecting the ship’s resting place?
Actually, there are, according to a 2006 article in The Emory International Law Review. The article notes that four countries (the UK, the U.S., France, and Canada) developed a specific treaty designed to regulate access to the Titanic site. But that treaty, which allows exceptions to strict preservation rules for “educational, scientific, or cultural interests,” conflicts with a UN draft convention (which the U.S. did not sign) that is more biased toward archaeologists’ strict insistence on preservation. It’s a thorny issue, but the author concludes that U.S. courts’ handling of legal questions surrounding the Titanic “has been reasonable and generally fair-minded.” That’s reassuring—but still, they might want to do something about all the litter.