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RMS TITANIC – Centennial may be last chance for the super rich to visit watery grave.

Cruise and Liner History: RMS TITANIC – Centennial may be last chance for the super rich to visit watery grave.

Down, down, down you go, for 2 1/2 hours, jammed with two other people in a tiny submersible, all the way to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean — and all for a glimpse, through a 5- or 8-inch porthole, of the ravaged remains of the once-grand ship where the Astors and the Strauses played, dined and, in some cases, died.

The trip is not for the claustrophobic, nor the 99 percent: A two-week cruise that includes one dive, lasting eight to 10 hours, costs $60,000.

But for fans of the Titanic, no price or privation is too great — especially with the 100th anniversary of the sinking coming up on April 15.

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Renata Rojas, a banker in New York City, said of diving more than 2 miles down to the muddy seabed. “I’ve been obsessed with the Titanic since I was 10 years old.”

Only existing film footage of the RMS TITANIC…

Centennial fever

With the centennial in mind, at least 80 people are expected to take the plunge to the wreck, according to the company that runs the trips, Deep Ocean Expeditions.

And while this may be the most extreme observance in the works, there are myriad others: cruise ships will sail to the exact spot in the Atlantic where more than 1,500 Titanic passengers drowned; people will hold Titanic-themed dinner parties, complete with napkins bearing the flag of the White Star Line; and the Titanic Historical Society will hold a gala dinner at which people are welcome to dress as an officer, a crew member or a passenger “to create the ambience of a festive maiden voyage.”

Already, you can buy centennial books, jewelry and other memorabilia galore.

As for an undersea visit to the ship itself, this coming season may be your last chance. Although diving trips have been offered sporadically to paying tourists since the wreck was discovered in 1985, Deep Ocean Expeditions says it plans to discontinue the wreck tours permanently, no doubt to the disappointment of future generations of Titanic devotees.

“This is our last year of passenger operations,” said Rob McCallum, the expedition leader. “We won’t head to Titanic again.”

Next summer, however, passengers will travel in Russian Mir (“peace”) submersibles that can withstand the deep’s crushing pressures. Inside, a pilot and two tourists occupy a space less than 7 feet wide, wearing layers of clothing to stay warm. Travelers bring a light lunch but are reminded there are no toilets.

“Your Mir will glide over the top of the wreck to look down into the cavern where Titanic’s famous grand staircase was once located,” Deep Ocean Expeditions promises on its website. “You will also spend time exploring the iconic bridge and promenade areas.”

Such a trip is not without its dangers — two people died in a submersible that once got entangled in a wreck off Florida — or without controversy. Scientists and scholars worry about new damage to the famous ship and new dishonor to a gravesite strewn with the shoes and other belongings of so many drowned people.

Titanic needs protection

However, they see the centennial as not only a potential threat but also an opportunity to lobby for a global accord that would establish rules for the Titanic’s protection.

“We need a basic agreement,” said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors the wreck.

Already, the site is quite littered. Passing cruise ships dump beer cans and garbage bags. On the seabed, the mini-submarines have set up memorial plaques with artificial flowers. At times, the subs have also accidentally bumped into the increasingly fragile wreck.

“It could get real crowded out there,” Delgado said of the centennial rush. Despite the legitimacy of wide public interest, he added, “there are some things that shouldn’t happen,” like dumping trash and leaving behind equipment.

Today, the wreck is a mess. Gaping holes have opened up in the decks, and metal walls have slumped. Still, the allure is great enough to prompt repeat dives. James Cameron, director of the blockbuster “Titanic,” is said to have taken the plunge more than two dozen times.

Titanic could have been saved 30 seconds earlier

EXPERTS have revealed that Titanic might have been saved from disaster if it had changed course just 30 seconds sooner.

It has been reported that a crewmember on the White Star liner, which set sail from Southampton in April 1912 but sank in the Atlantic after hitting an iceberg, had been warned of the obstacle ahead but waited half a minute before changing course.

A study concluded that had William Murdoch, the officer in charge, taken action straight away the ship might been saved, along with 1,496 lives.

The revelation comes ahead of next year’s centenary anniversary of the tragedy.

Investigators have examined the original 1912 Wreck Commission inquiry using new research and evidence not available then.

They believe that Murdoch thought the liner might be able to avoid the iceberg and by giving the “hard-astarboard”

order he might be steering the ship’s stern towards the iceberg.

This puts in doubt the original verdict that Murdoch steered immediately but in vain.

Leading the study, US Titanic expert Samuel Halpern, said: “It was a judgement call, and he misjudged. I don’t think we can blame him.”

Researchers based their findings on the testimony of Frederick Fleet, the lookout, and Robert Hichens, the sailor at the wheel.

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