Titanic discoverer says ship’s wreckage site being destroyed by tourists; how he plans to save it

Eric Pfeiffer

The man who first discovered the Titanic wreckage says tourists visiting the site are destroying the remains of the ship's hull.

"They are loving the Titanic to death," oceanographer Robert Ballard said during an interview with Stephen Colbert.

Ballard is using the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking to bring attention to what he says is the unnecessary destruction of the historic site.

"They are landing on it, crushing the deck, knocked off the crow's nest, leaving all sorts of garbage," he said.

Ballard said one couple was even married in a submarine that landed on the Titanic's deck, which he called, "a little over-the-top."

"What we're trying to do is say, look, visit the Titanic. But you don't go to Gettysburg with a shovel. You don't take belt buckles off the Arizona. So, visit, but don't touch," he said.

On Monday, Ballard will host Save the Titanic on the National Geographic Channel. Along with keeping tourists at arm's length, Ballard has another seemingly unusual idea for saving the Titanic from further deterioration: painting it.

"You can actually paint the Titanic. When you build supertankers, they are as big as a football field. They can't dry dock those suckers anymore," he told Colbert. "They can actually use robots, very simple, to clean the hull of the ship and they have paint they can apply underwater."

Ballard said he's applied for a permit to begin painting the Titanic, which is located about 380 miles off Newfoundland. And if a good faith effort to keep the tourists off the Titanic's deck doesn't work, Ballard said "robot sentries" could be deployed to alert authorities to trespassers.

Several events are being held around the world to mark the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking. The Luxor Hotel is Las Vegas is showcasing items removed from the wreckage in its "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition." Ballard said he's opposed to such efforts, noting that the Smithsonian and British Museum rejected his offers to bring up evidence for display.

"There's nothing to learn," he said. "I also went to the survivors, there were 24 of them alive when I found it. They said leave it. It's the graveyard of my parents."

The Titanic remains a cultural phenomenon to this day. Amongst the assortment of Titanic memorabilia, you can even purchase a 25-foot inflatable slide that recreates the ship's sinking.

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