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Published April 08, 2012, 12:05 AM

Fading Titanic needs protection, explorer says

Several shows relive Titantic's wonder
Titanic resurfaces in its extraordinary way over this week with TV specials timed to the 100th anniversary of its sinking this month.

By: Mark Washburn, McClatchy Newspapers, INFORUM

Titanic resurfaces in its extraordinary way over this week with TV specials timed to the 100th anniversary of its sinking this month.

Deep-sea explorer Bob Ballard, who in 1985 found the luxury liner's dismembered corpse strewn across acres of the North Atlantic's floor, brings one of the best for those intrigued by the disaster in “Save the Titanic” (9 p.m. Monday, National Geographic Channel).

Ballard is perhaps the foremost advocate for protecting the wreck, which has become a target for salvors and even deep-sea tourists. On his first expedition to the wreck 27 years ago, he found the ship's crow's nest - from which lookout Frederick Fleet first sighted the outline of doom and shrieked to the bridge, “Iceberg right ahead!” - still high above the deck.

Now mysteriously missing, the crow's nest was knocked off into a cargo hold, he believes, by a rogue Russian submarine that visits the ship's grave with passengers who pay $60,000 for the trip. As more deep-sea vehicles are developed, the ship will be increasingly looted, he believes. Ballard has been vocal about preserving the wreck as a memorial to those who built the ship and died with it, a stance that has put him at odds with groups like RMS Titanic, which exhibits artifacts it plucked from the bottom in a Las Vegas casino.

From a submarine, Ballard once placed a memorial plaque on the deck of the Titanic. It's gone now. A salvage crew picked it up and dropped it into an exposed toilet on the wreck, Ballard says. “That tells you who you're dealing with.” He says he got the information from someone connected to that dive. “Not everyone thought that was cool.”

He also visits Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the ship was built and examines the original plans for the liner, the pinnacle of luxury and technology for its time. He interviews descendants of the “Guarantee Group” - nine men who helped construct Titanic and who were picked to represent Belfast's shipbuilders on the maiden voyage. All perished, still revered by their descendants.

“I thought I knew everything there was to know about the Titanic, then I learned about the Guarantee Group,” Ballard said in an interview. “They never found their bodies. Their families have been silent for 100 years. It was an honor to tell their stories.”

Tiny bacteria are feasting on Titanic's iron bones, converting them to wormish rusticiles a century in the making. Ballard believes the ship is dying again, imperiled by the forces of nature and increasing pressure from human greed.

It deserves better, he reminds us, than to be on a collision course with a new fate - that of becoming a scrap yard picked over by scavengers. “You don't go to Gettysburg with a shovel,” Ballard said. “You don't come into the cemetery and dig and take the jewelry off the bodies.”


Other major specials on the Titanic:

“Titanic's Final Mystery” (2 p.m. today, Smithsonian Channel): Historian Tim Maltin theorizes that a rare natural phenomenon caused mirages that masked the iceberg and the view of the Titanic from a passing ship.

“Titanic: The Final Word” (7 p.m. today, National Geographic Channel): Filmmaker James Cameron assembles experts to sift clues from the ocean bottom to create a forensic animation of the ship's final hours.

“The Titanic with Len Goodman” (7 p.m., Tuesday, PBS): Len Goodman, host of “Dancing with the Stars,” returns to his welding days at his old workplace, Harland and Woolf, the company that built the Titanic, and he talks to descendants of those who died on the ship.

“Saving the Titanic” (8 p.m. Tuesday, PBS): Dramatized version of what went on in the engineering compartments as workers fought to keep the sinking ship energized.

“Titanic” (7 p.m. Saturday; 8 p.m. April 15, ABC): Four-hour miniseries about the last night of the doomed ship told through the passengers and their back-stories.

Distributed by MCT Information Services