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 dropweights 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 31 January 2012, IMO issued a Circular alerting its member governments of a request by the U.S. Coast Guard that vessels voluntarily take additional pollution prevention and safety measures in an area of the seas above the wreck site of the Titanic.
The IMO Circular may be groundbreaking in that it is the first time that the Organization has asked its member governments voluntarily to take action to prevent pollution in an area of the high seas beyond the jurisdiction of any country to protect an underwater cultural resource.
Additional information about the genesis of the IMO Circular is available at: http://www.gc.noaa.gov/gcil_titanic.html.