Titanic: Diving tours of wreck site delayed until 2019
(CNN) — In 1912, a trip on board the Titanic was the ultimate in luxury travel.
More than a century later, it still is.
Deep-pocketed tourists have been waiting a while for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to glide around the Titanic’s wreck.
American company OceanGate had planned to dive to the wreck site in May 2018.
But due to inclement weather impacting on testing, the trips have been put on hold — the luxury experience company has rescheduled the trip for 2019.
Meanwhile The Bluefish, a self-described “experiential concierge firm” is also planning Titanic trips for the 2019/20 period.
Interest in the 20th century’s most famous maritime disaster has remained high since Robert Ballard and his team discovered the remains of RMS Titanic almost 33 years ago.
However, these planned voyages could well be one of the last opportunities to visit.
A 2016 study claimed that a recently discovered “extremophile bacteria” could eat away what’s left of the famous shipwreck within 15 or 20 years.
$105,129 per person
OceanGate’s eight-day journey sets off from Newfoundland, Canada, and will transport visitors in a titanium-and-carbon-fiber submersible to the mighty vessel’s final resting place, more than two miles below the surface of the Atlantic.
The trips can be booked via OceanGate — who created a purpose-built submersible to carry the crew and guests — or via their affiliate, London-based travel company Blue Marble Private.
“We rescheduled the tour for 2019 because when we got to the Bahamas we had a self-imposed timeline of a 45-day go/no go that we needed to reach 4,000 meters by,” OceanGate’s marketing manager Dana Hall tells CNN Travel.
“Upon arrival we had about a week of really bad thunder and lightning storms,” she adds.
The vessel wasn’t hit by lightening, but was still affected.
“The electromagnetic field from the lightening damaged over 70% of the electronics.”
Testing was delayed.
“The North Atlantic is pretty unpredictable,” concedes Hall. But the company remain confident the Titanic Survey Expedition will take place in 2019.
The first voyage is already fully booked, despite the experience costing $105,129 per person.
Blue Marble Private declares this is the equivalent (after inflation) to a $4,350 First Class passage on RMS Titanic’s inaugural — and only — voyage from Southampton, England, to New York.
Which makes for a nice irony, but is almost twice as much as the $59,000 Deep Ocean Expeditions charged when it last brought tourists to the site in 2012.
So what do you get for your dollars?
A fancy title: Clients are known as Mission Specialists and will learn to assist the expedition team in the submersible and aboard the expedition yacht.
Three potential days of diving, with dives lasting three hours.
The opportunity to spot weird and wonderful bioluminescent critters during the 90-minute descent.
Three hours exploring the remains of the 269-meter-long ship, taking in the deck, the bow, the bridge and the cavern where the grand staircase was once located.
There’ll also be the opportunity to “explore Titanic’s massive debris field, home to numerous artifacts strewn across the ocean floor, nearly undisturbed for over a century,” says Blue Marble Private founder Elizabeth Ellis.
“It’s a real expedition experience, it’s certainly not a luxury vacation,” says Hall. “All of our Mission Specialists are signing up to get to experience not only seeing the Titanic, but also helping to assist with on the support vessel, support with operations — if they’re comfortable — as well as on the submersible itself.”
Return to the seas
The Bluefish is also taking reservations for a 2019-20 expedition.
The company previously organized dives in the early 2000s, but trips were put on hold post-2007.
“After 2007 there was a recession, there was the repair, there was political instability, because bearing in mind most of the apparatus is Russian. So there was a lot of other elements,” says Sims.
Plans to resurface the expeditions to coincide with the Titanic centenary in 2012 didn’t follow through.
“Everything else kind of took a priority. There was no issue, but no one was focusing on allowing us to be able to do this,” says Sims.
“There was the Olympics going on, so we were put on the back burner and quite simply it never happened, which was very unfortunate.”
However — like OceanGate — The Bluefish are confident a 2019/20 dive is doable.
“Technology’s got better, making the refurbishment easier, and actually, to be completely blunt, less expensive,” says Sims. “That’s brought it back up to speed to actually put it back on the radar.”
Sims thinks trips could become an annual or biannual occurrence.
“There is communication within our research team to use alternate vessels, which would mean that we wouldn’t have to be relying just on a single Russian haulage ship to be the main distributor of the submarine.”
The company is taking reservations and small, refundable deposits. But The Bluefish has yet to put a final price on the experience.
“We are actually taking reservations for the slots to be released in ’19/20,” says Sims. “We do already have people pre-booked, pre-deposited.”
Not a tourist attraction
Both companies stress their tours will respect the Titanic as a grave site, as well as a place of cultural and scientific interest.
“You’re spending five to six days out on an exploration vessel, a Russian exploration vessel in the middle of the north ocean. It’s not like going to Disney,” says Sims.
“The people who tend to want to go are very respectful. And you can only do eight to nine civilians on a ship. So you’re not getting a bunch of giggling teenagers who are spending over $100,000 to go along and get selfies,” he adds.
“While people can go, it is certainly not a tourist expedition,” echoes Hall. “We are going to scientifically collect data to research to study and assess the decay of the ship, because it is decaying.”
So what are the options if you’re a Titanic enthusiast who’s afraid of seawater? Or who doesn’t have thousands of dollars to drop?
Well, China is currently building a life-size replica of the doomed ship in landlocked Sichuan province, more than 1,200 kilometers from the sea.
The multimillion-dollar project will include reproductions of the original Titanic’s features, including a ballroom, theater and swimming pool, and will be permanently docked in a reservoir in the Qijiang River.
More ambitious plans by an Australian tycoon, Clive Palmer, for a full-size, seaworthy replica have reportedly been delayed. It was originally scheduled for launch in 2016, but this was moved to 2018. There’s no sign of it yet.
For shipwreck fans with a more modest budget, there’s also Northern Ireland’s Titanic Museum.
The vessel was built at Belfast’s shipyards before hitting the water for the first time on its journey down to Southampton.