The remains of the Titanic will now be protected from people diving for valuables under a treaty between United States and the United Kingdom ratified last month by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, officials announced Tuesday.
Making the announcement in Belfast, where the once dubbed “unsinkable ship” was built, British Department for Transport and Maritime Minister Nusrat Ghani said the treaty gives the U.S. and the U.K. the power to grant or deny licenses to enter the hulls of the wreckage, or collect artifacts found outside.
“Lying two and a half miles below the ocean surface, the RMS Titanic is the subject of the most documented maritime tragedy in history,” Ghani said. “This momentous agreement with the United States to preserve the wreck means it will be treated with the sensitivity and respect owed to the final resting place of more than 1,500 lives.”
The U.K. signed the treaty in 2003, but Pompeo did not ratify it until late December.
This comes after RMS Titanic Inc., a subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions, filed a motion in U.S. District Court in eastern Virginia on Monday that it intends to retrieve items from the ship, arguing that the treaty has “no teeth” in U.S. law, The Guardian reported.
The company became the only group permitted to retrieve artifacts at the site in 1994 and has since collected 5,500 items, including a 17-ton section of the hull that was raised out of the ocean in 1998, Time reported. Some items have been auctioned off by Henry Aldridge & Son, including a water-stained letter, which sold for more than $163,000, and a violin, which sold for almost $1.5 million.
Lying beneath international waters, about 370 nautical miles south of Newfoundland, Canada, the RMS Titanic was not explicitly protected by any legislation since its discovery in 1985, the British Department for Transport and Maritime said in a press release. The treaty strengthens basic protections afforded to heritage sites under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The RMS Titanic set sail on its maiden voyage from Southampton, Britain on April 10, 1912, for New York City with 2,223 passengers and crew on board. Five days later it struck an iceberg, broke apart and sank to the bottom of the ocean where it remained undiscovered for more than 70 years. Only 706 people survived, according to the U.S. Senate report on the disaster.