Video: Ghostly images from Titanic's wreckage

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updated 12/29/2011 10:25:46 PM ET 2011-12-30T03:25:46

The owner of the largest trove of artifacts salvaged from the Titanic is putting the vast collection up for auction as a single lot in 2012, the 100th anniversary of the world's most famous shipwreck.

More than 5,500 items including fine china, ship fittings and portions of hull that were recovered from the ocean liner have an estimated value of $189 million (146 million euros), according to Premier Exhibitions Inc., parent of RMS Titanic Inc. — the Titanic's court-approved salvor. That value was based on a 2007 appraisal and does not include intellectual property gathered from a 2010 scientific expedition that mapped the wreck site.

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The auction is scheduled for April 1 by Guernsey's, a New York City auction house, according to filings by Premier Exhibitions Inc. with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Results of the auction won't be announced until April 15, the date a century ago the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage after striking an iceberg.

The auction is subject to approval by a federal judge in Virginia whose jurisdiction for years has given oversight to legal issues governing the salvage of the Titanic. The Titanic treasures were amassed during seven perilous trips to the wreck, which rests about two and a half miles below the ocean surface in the North Atlantic.

A spokeswoman for the auction house and Premier Exhibitions declined Wednesday to discuss the auction with The Associated Press until a formal announcement in January.

The Titanic's sinking claimed the lives of more than 1,500 of the 2,228 passengers and crew. An international team led by oceanographer Robert Ballard located the wreckage in 1985, about 400 miles (645 kilometers) off Newfoundland, Canada.

Court rulings govern sale
U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith, who has overseen the case from her Norfolk courtroom, has ruled that RMS Titanic has title to the artifacts and was entitled to full compensation for them. She has not determined how RMS Titanic will be compensated.

Smith, a maritime jurist who has called the Titanic an "international treasure," has approved covenants and conditions that the company previously worked out with the federal government, including a prohibition against selling the collection piecemeal.

The conditions, which accompanied a 2010 ruling, also require RMS to make the artifacts available "to present and future generations for public display and exhibition, historical review, scientific and scholarly research, and educational purposes."

Atlanta-based Premier Exhibitions has been displaying the Titanic artifacts in exhibitions around the world. The items include personal belongings of passengers, such as perfume from a manufacturer who was traveling to New York to sell his samples.

RMS recovered artifacts from the shipwreck in expeditions in 1987, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2004.

In its SEC filing, Premier acknowledged any future owner of the Titanic treasures must abide by the covenants and conditions.

In accordance with court's conditions, "The Property will be sold as a complete collection and offered for sale as one lot," Guernsey's wrote in the SEC filing, which outlines the terms of the auction. The auction house's commission is 8 percent of a successful bid.

3-D mapping
In 2010, RMS Titanic collaborated with some of the world's leading experts in the most technologically advanced expedition to the Titanic, undertaking the first comprehensive mapping survey of the vessel with 3-D imagery from bow to stern.

Some of the never-before-seen images were shown in Smith's courtroom. The most striking images involved the 3-D tour of the Titanic's stern, which lies 2,000 feet from the bow.

A camera in a remote-controlled submersible vehicle skimmed over the stern, seemingly transporting viewers through scenes of jagged rusticles sprouting from the deck, a length of chain, the captain's bathtub, and wooden elements that scientists had previously believed had disappeared in the harsh, deep ocean environment.

The cameras did not probe the interior of the wreck. But the expedition fully mapped the 3-by-5-mile (5-by-8 kilometer) wreck site, documenting the entire debris field for the first time.

The new images will ultimately be assembled for public viewing, scientists said, and to help oceanographers and archaeologists explain the ship's violent descent to the ocean bottom. It is also intended to provide answers on the state of the wreck, which scientists say is showing increasing signs of deterioration.

"Titanic" director James Cameron also has led teams to the wreck to record the bow and the stern.

The Titanic exhibit is among several operated by Premier Exhibitions, which bills itself as "a major provider of museum-quality touring exhibitions." Its offerings have included sports memorabilia, a traveling Star Trek homage and "Bodies," an anatomy exhibit featuring preserved human cadavers.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explainer: 10 shipwrecks that have enriched our imaginations

  • Image: scroll fragment
    Ralph White  /  Corbis file

    The Titanic, the 46,000-ton "unsinkable" ocean liner that struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage in 1912 and sank within hours to the bottom of the North Atlantic, is the world's most famous shipwreck. To this day, the voyage, its passengers, even the mysterious Cold War details surrounding its 1985 discovery continue to capture the public's fascination. But the Titanic is not the only wrecked ship steeped in history — if not treasure — discovered on the bottom of the sea. Click the "Next" arrow above to learn about nine more shipwrecks that have enriched our imaginations.

    -- By John Roach

  • An ancient Greek oil ship

    Image: pottery shards
    Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities

    An ancient Greek cargo ship, described by one researcher as a UPS truck of its day, sank with what appears to be a load of oregano-flavored olive oil. At least, that's the result of a genetic analysis of residue in one of the ship's earthenware jars that were hauled up from the 200-foot depths of the Aegean Sea where the ship sank around 350 B.C. The wrecked ship, which was discovered by an underwater robot, contained several hundred of the jars, called amphorae. More than two-thirds were of the style of the one containing the olive oil. Other containers likely held wine, a well-known export from the island of Chios.

  • Diamond geologists find sunken treasure

    Image: Gold coins
    AP

    Geologists hunting for diamonds off the coast of Namibia stumbled upon a different sort of riches when they hit upon a shipwreck full of copper ingots, elephant tusks and gold coins. The discovery was reported by Namdeb Diamond Corp, a joint venture between diamond giant De Beers and the government of Namibia. Preliminary analysis indicates the well-worn Spanish or Portuguese ship likely went down in stormy weather in the late 1400s or early 1500s. Judging from the cargo, researchers said the ship was likely looking for material to build cannons or was perhaps trading in ivory. This image shows coins and a brass divider recovered in the wreckage.

  • Santa Margarita loot a long trail of discovery

    Image: Pearls
    Dylan Kibler  /  AP

    In 1622, a fleet of 28 Spain-bound ships laden with gold, silver, copper and other riches reaped from the New World was snared by a violent hurricane in the Florida Strait. At least six of the boats sank, their loot no longer bound for the crown. Modern day explorers, however, have scoured the waters for the sunken treasure. Riches from the heavily armed Nuestra Se�ora de Atocha started coming to light in the 1970s and the scattered fortunes of a second ship, the Santa Margarita, were hit upon in 1980. In more recent years, divers from Blue Water Ventures Key West have been hot on the Santa Margarita's trail, recovering millions worth of treasure including the pearls shown here.

  • Captain Kidd's ship discovered in Dominican Republic

    Image: possible wreckage
    Indiana University

    The wreckage of the Quedagh Merchant, a ship abandoned by Scottish privateer William Kidd in the 17th century, has been discovered in shallow waters off a tiny island in the Dominican Republic and turned into an underwater preserve. Captain Kidd spent much of his life as a privateer – and captured the Indian-owned Quedagh Merchant which was laden with satin, silks, silver, gold, and other riches. But he abandoned the ship in 1699 to address charges in New York that he was a pirate, not a privateer. According to historians, the men entrusted with the ship looted it, burned it, and set it adrift. It was found just 70 feet off the coast of Catalina Island at a depth of only 10 feet.

  • Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge Found?

    Image: cannon
    Chuck Beckley  /  Jacksonville Daily News

    Archaeologists believe the cannon shown here being hauled up off the coast of North Carolina was part of the notorious pirate Blackbeard's flagship. According to legend, Blackbeard, whose real name was thought to be Edward Teach or Thatch, commandeered the French slave ship La Concorde in 1717 and renamed it the Queen Anne's Revenge. Blackbeard abandoned the ship when it ran aground off the North Carolina coast. Several artifacts recovered from the wreck appear to support the belief that it was Blackbeard's flagship, though the findings have been questioned by some scholars. Ongoing excavations may one day solve the mystery.

  • HMS Victory, famous British warship

    Image: archaeological site in Masada
    AP Photo/Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. |

    A famous British warship sunk by a violent storm in 1744 was discovered 330 feet deep in the English Channel, more than 50 miles from a group of rocky islets long implicated in the vessel's demise. The discovery exonerates the HMS Victory's commander, Sir John Balchin, and a lighthouse keeper near the rocks who was prosecuted for failing to keep the lights on, according to researchers with Odyssey Marine Exploration who found the sunken vessel that carried at least 900 men. What's more, the 110-gun ship is thought to contain 4 tons of gold coins. This image shows one of the ship's bronze cannons with the royal crest of King George I.

  • Court battles over $500 million shipwreck loot

    Image: Found coins
    Odyssey Marine Exploration via A

    The governments of Peru and Spain are caught up in court battles with a Florida-based exploration firm that recovered an estimated $500 million worth of silver coins from a Spanish frigate sunk by a British warship in 1804. Marine Odyssey Exploration announced the discovery of the treasure in 2007, though tried to keep the ship's origins and exact Atlantic Ocean location a secret. The details began to leak in 2008 as the Spanish government laid claim to the treasure if it indeed was from the sunken Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes. Peru has since weighed in with a court challenge of its own, saying the coins were made with Peruvian silver and minted in Lima. In this file photo, Odyssey Marine Exploration co-founder, Greg Stemm, left, examines the loot with a co-worker at an undisclosed location.

  • Ore ship found, mystery endures

    Image: Ore freighter ship
    AP

    The discovery of an ore carrier some 460 feet beneath the surface of Lake Superior has only raised the intrigue over why the vessel sank on just its second voyage. The Cyprus was hauling iron ore from Superior, Wisconsin to Buffalo, New York, when it encountered a moderate gale on October 11, 1907. But the storm was insufficient to bother other ships that day. At the time, some mariners suspected water entered through the ships newly designed hatch covers, though a labor riot at the time of the vessels construction could have created other flaws. While this remains unsolved, shipwreck researchers have another mystery to resolve: The Cyprus was found 10 miles north of where its sole survivor said it went down. The ship on her maiden voyage is shown in this image.

  • Graf Zeppelin, unused Nazi Germany carrier

    Wojtek Jakubowski  /  AP

    The Polish Navy is almost certain they've located the remains of Nazi Germany's only aircraft carrier, the Graf Zeppelin. The ship was launched in 1938, though it never saw action as Adolf Hitler's interest in the navy waned during World War II. The Soviet Union took control of the ship after Germany's defeat and used it for target practice in 1947, according to historical accounts. The carrier eventually sank but its exact whereabouts were unknown until the Polish Navy found remains with an underwater robot. In this image, Polish Navy Commander Daniel Beczek holds up a photo with three views of the ship: the top is a drawing, the middle is a sonar image made by the navy, and the bottom is a 1930s construction photo.

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