A £15.2m campaign to bring artefacts from the Titanic shipwreck to Belfast has gained support from the film director James Cameron and the oceanographer who discovered the wreckage.
Three Northern Irish museum groups, along with Royal Museums Greenwich, have launched a joint bid to take ownership of 5,500 items salvaged from the wreck since 1987 and display them in the city where the ship was built.
If successful, the Titanic Belfast museum, National Museums Northern Ireland, and the National Maritime Museum in London would display the items. The Titanic Foundation charity is also involved in the bid.
The items include a seven-metre section of the ship’s hull, sets of china, and a bronze cherub decoration from the ship’s central staircase.
The fate of the artefacts has been uncertain since 2016, when the private US company which owns them filed for bankruptcy. If the bid to take control of the company is accepted, the four groups would have 60 days to raise the required funds.
The campaign would see the artefacts brought into public ownership for the first time. Items from the collection have previously been auctioned and loaned to museums around the world.
Conal Harvey, the deputy chairman of Titanic Belfast, said: “These artefacts, which are of great historical significance, are at risk of being spilt up, sold to private collectors and lost as an identifiable collection.
“We are campaigning to bring these artefacts home, where they will protected and preserved, through public ownership and on display for the world to enjoy.”
The groups face a rival bid from a group of the bankrupt firm’s existing shareholders, and another from its equity holders, who are intending to split up the artefacts and sell some off at auction. A decision on the proposals could be made by a court in Florida on Wednesday.
James Cameron, the director of the 1997 film Titanic, which remains the second-highest grossing film of all time, has supported the bid.
“The sinking of the Titanic was a heart-breaking moment in history,” Cameron said. “Securing the irreplaceable collection of artefacts—protecting and preserving them for future generations by placing them in the public trust—is a unique and important opportunity to honour the 1,503 passengers and crew who died.”
Robert Ballard, the oceanographer who first discovered the Titanic’s remains, said: “This bid is the only viable option to retain the integrity of the Titanic collection. The collection deserves to be returned home to where its journey began.”National Geographic has pledged $500,000 (£380,000) towards the campaign.
RMS Titanic was the world’s largest ocean liner when it was built. It sank after on its maiden journey after hitting an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Museums Association’s Annual Conference and Exhibition takes place in Belfast on 8-10 November. Discounted entry to Titanic Belfast and tours of other museums and places of interest in the city will be available to all delegates.