Bow of the RMS Titanic.
(NOAA Photo Library)


The R.M.S. Titanic is one of the  most famous shipwrecks in modern time. A British registered ship in the White Star line that was owned by a U.S. company, Titanic was built in Belfast, Northern Ireland by Harland & Wolff for transatlantic passage between Southampton, England and New York City. It was the largest and most luxurious passenger ship of its time and was reported to be unsinkable. Titanic was launched on May 31, 1911 and set sail on its maiden voyage from Southampton on April 10, 1912; 2,240 passengers and crew were on board. On April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg, Titanic broke apart and sank to the bottom of the ocean, taking with it the lives of more than 1,500 passengers and crew. While there has been some salvage outside of the major hull portions, most of the ship remains in its final resting place at 12,000 feet below sea level and over 350 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.

Its famous story of disaster and human drama has been, and continues to be, recounted in numerous books, articles and movies. Titanic is recognized by the U.S. Congress for its national and international significance and has become a cultural icon.

100th Anniversary, April 15, 2012

The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic on April 15, 2012, is being commemorated worldwide.  This anniversary has also highlighted the need for long term protection of this important site. Several legislative initiatives and international efforts are currently working toward that goal.

ACUA & SHA’s Work on the RMS Titanic Legislation & Actions

During the 2011 mid-year SHA Board Meeting in Washington DC, four members composed a delegation in support of Titanic legislation on Capitol Hill. The situation changed from 2010 and was no longer being dealt with by the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard. Titanic was moved to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The delegation met with three members of the Foreign Relations committee’s staff at the end of June, as well as with staff of Senators Barbara Boxer, Jeanne Shaheen, and Tom Udall. We were pleased to learn that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was preparing to introduce Titanic legislation as part of another bill.

After our Hill visit, SHA President Bill Lees sent a letter to Committee Chair John F. Kerry. Lees also sent letters to Ranking Member Richard G. Lugar, and the other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Barbara Boxer, Robert Menendez, Benjamin L. Cardin, Robert P. Casey Jr., Jim Webb, Jeanne Shaheen, Christopher Coons, Richard J. Durbin, Tom Udall, Bob Corker, James E. Risch, Marco Rubio, James M. Inhofe, Jim DeMint, Johnny Isakson, John Barrasso, Mike Lee).

On July 27, 2011, Senator Kerry introduced Senate Bill, S.1426 that included the RMS Titanic provision as Title VI (Sections 601-605) – RMS Titanic Maritime Memorial Preservation Act. At that time the bill was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations ( summary of provisions).  Senate Bill, S1426 was based on the draft legislation that DOS sent up to Capitol Hill in 2009/2010.  Unfortunately, the bill died in committee.

In April 2012, Senator Kerry reintroduced legislation for RMS Titanic as the  R.M.S. Titanic Maritime Memorial Preservation Act of 2012  (S. 2279).  A copy of the news release announcing the new bill is provided under Breaking News.  Senate Bill 2270 is currently under discussion.

Additional information on RMS Titanic, including prior proposed legislation, international agreements, past salvage, important documents and references is available through NOAA’s Office of the  General Counsel (OGC) Titanic page at the OGC.

The NOAA marine sanctuary program’s RMS Titanic website has a great deal of useful background and related information including NOAA’s role in protecting this important shipwreck, technology, and exploration.

IMO Circular Asking for Voluntary Measures to Preserve the R.M.S. Titanic Wreck Site (January, 2012)

The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic on April 14, 2012, is expected to bring an unprecedented amount of commercial shipping traffic to the wreck site. In addition to the numerous cruise ships scheduled to visit the area, several submersible expeditions have been announced that will dive to the wreck site. These activities, along with others that may disturb the wreck site, highlight the need for action to protect the site?s archeological integrity and ensure that it is treated as a maritime memorial to the 1,500 people who perished when the Titanic sank. NOAA, the National Park Service and the U.S. Coast Guard prepared a letter that U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Brian Salerno sent to to the Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on January 25, 2012, requesting the issuance of a non-binding circular advising vessels to refrain from discharging any garbage, waste or effluent in a 10 square mile zone above the wreck. The letter also requests submersibles to avoid landing on the Titanic’s deck, to concentrate any drop weights on ascent in specific areas away from hull portions, and to refrain from placing plaques or other permanent memorials on the wreck (however well-intentioned). On January 31, 2012, the IMO issued a circular alerting member governments of the U.S. request and asking them to take action as appropriate in response (MEPC.1/Circ.779). NOAA in consultation and cooperation with its Federal agency partners will continue to work to protect and preserve the Titanic wrecksite as a maritime memorial. For further information please contact Ole Varmer of the NOAA General Council Office’s International Section by email or phone: (202) 482-1402.

Support for UCH Protection Among Federal Agencies

Most Federal Agencies with responsibility for protecting UCH have indicated that their activities directed at UCH will be done in a manner consistent with the Annex Rules of the 2001 UNESCO Convention. Included among these agencies are: the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), the National Park Service (NPS), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM, formerly Minerals Management Service), the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), the Coast Guard (USCG), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Federal Agency letters on the subject are available online at

Breaking News

April 2, 2012 –  Kerry Legislation Would Help Protect Historic Site of R.M.S. Titanic

April 5, 2012 –  The Wreck of the Titanic Now Protected by UNESCO UCH Convention