The Way the Titanic Is Treated May Be About to Change
30 years after it was found, Canada is poised to claim ownership
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 2, 2015 7:21 AM CDT
This image made available by the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, is a photograph of the Titanic in Belfast in a family album. The album featuring never seen before pictures was...   (AP Photo/Ulster Folk & Transport Museum)

(Newser) – It's been more than 100 years since the Titanic sank in 1912. Yet it wasn't until Sept. 1, 1985—30 years ago yesterday—that Robert Ballard famously found it, submerged more than two miles deep and 380 miles southeast of Newfoundland. In a special interview with National Geographic, Ballard says that because the wreck is in international waters and the company that owned it no longer exists, maritime law dictates that no one owns it—thus allowing anyone to visit and swim away with artifacts. But this free-for-all may change now that the ship has been underwater for a century and has thus been designated a UNESCO heritage site. Also, because the Titanic is on the continental shelf, Canada is requesting an extension to claim that territory and thus the right to the vessel.

Unfortunately, the wreckage that Ballard called a "museum piece" in an interview with Time back when he found it is no longer in such pristine condition. With no light and little life so far below the surface of the ocean, as the Belfast Telegraph reports, many artifacts were well preserved and thus carted away by tourists. "The salvagers have reached a point of diminishing returns," Ballard says today. But still, "Most of the destruction is being done by humans that are landing on it." He adds: "[We] have the technology to preserve the ship. Conservation and preservation in situ is possible, but who would do that?" If Canada wins the rights to the ship, time will tell what it chooses to do with the remains. (See which rare Titanic collectible was recently sold.)