Expeditions to recover Titanic artefacts have been a collaborative effort between RMS Titanic, Inc.; The French Oceanographic Institute; and the Moscow-based P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology. These expeditions have been conducted at Titanic’s wreck site, located 963 miles northeast of New York and 453 miles southeast of the Newfoundland coastline, during the summers of 1987, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2004.

Nautile and MIR submersibles were used for the recovery in Expeditions 1987, 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1998; these machines are equipped with mechanical arms capable of scooping, grasping, and recovering the artefacts, which are then either collected in sampling baskets, or placed in lifting baskets. The crew compartment of each submersible accommodates three people – a pilot, a co-pilot, and an observer – who each have a one-foot-thick plastic porthole between themselves and the depths. Both submersibles have the capabilities of operating and deploying a Remote-Controlled Vehicle on a 110-foot tether which is then flown inside the wreck to record images.

In the 2004 Expedition, the Remora 6000 Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) was used for the recovery of objects. This ROV was controlled from the surface via ROV pilots.

It takes over two and a half hours to reach the Titanic's wreck site. Each dive lasts about 12 to 15 hours with an additional 2 hours to ascend to the surface.

Each recovered artefact must then undergo conservation following carefully designed processes to remove rust and salt deposits from each object.

Once an artefact leaves the water and is exposed to the air, it must undergo an immediate stabilisation process to prevent further deterioration. When recovered from salt water, artefacts are cleaned with a soft brush and placed in foam-lined tubs of fresh water. Once received at the conservation laboratory, contaminating surface salts are removed from each artefact. After a period of six months to two years, artefacts can be conserved using treatments that are compatible with each artefact’s construction materials.

For instance, metal objects are placed in a desalination bath and undergo the first steps of electrolysis, a process that removes negative ions and salt from the artefact. Electrolysis is now being used to remove salts from paper, leather, and wood as well. These materials also receive treatments of chemical agents and fungicides that remove rust and fungus from them.

Artefacts made of paper are first freeze-dried to remove water and are then cleaned with specialised vacuums and hand tools to remove dirt and debris. Leather artefacts are soaked or injected with a water-soluble wax which replaces voids previously filled by water and debris.

Artefacts are displayed in specially designed cases where temperature, relative humidity and light levels can be controlled, protecting the artefacts from these three agents of deterioration. The artefacts displayed have been conserved and are continuously monitored and maintained so that they can be shown in the Exhibition as well as preserved for the future.

Melbourne Museum

14 May 2010 - 7 November 2010

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