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Campaign launched to raise millions of pounds for rare collection of Titanic artefacts and bring them to Belfast

A £14.5 million bid to buy a collection of more than 5,500 artefacts from the Titanic wreck site and bring them to Belfast was launched yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell.

THE race is on to raise millions of pounds to secure a rare collection of 5,500 artefacts recovered from the Titanic wreck site and bring them to Belfast.

A £14.5 million campaign was launched yesterday to buy the items, which are at risk of being split up and sold to private collectors after a US company that currently owns them filed for bankruptcy.

If successful, many of the artefacts would go on display at the Titanic Belfast exhibition centre.

Four organisations, including Titanic Belfast, have teamed up to bid to secure the Titanic Artefacts Collection recovered from the seabed over the course of seven deep-sea expeditions between 1987 and 2004.

The collection is believed to include luggage, floor tiles, the ship's whistles, silver cutlery, jewellery and an unopened bottle of champagne.

The current owners of the collection, Premier Exhibitions, have filed for bankruptcy in America and a number of different bidders are trying to buy the artefacts.

But Titanic Belfast, Titanic Foundation, National Museums Northern Ireland and National Maritime Museum have joined together to launch the campaign and bid for the artefacts.

The initiative was revealed yesterday at the exact location where the liner was designed, built and launched. The famous ship sank after hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage in 1912, with the loss of more than 1,500 people.

It has received the backing of Titanic film director James Cameron and Dr Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreck of the ship in 1985.

The two men organised a meeting with Conal Harvey, the deputy chairman of Titanic Belfast, at the National Geographic Society headquarters in America last year and discussed the idea of acquiring and repatriating the artefacts.

Following the meeting, the National Geographic Society pledged $500,000 (£380,000) to help with the fundraising.

In a video statement, Mr Cameron said the Titanic story had "captivated the imaginations, hearts and minds of people around the world".

"It's played an important role in my own life - as a film-maker, a deep sea explorer and as an advocate of deep-ocean research," he said.

"The sinking of the Titanic was a heart-breaking moment in history.

"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."

Dr Ballard added: "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 Society chief executive Michael L Ulica said: "The repatriation of the shipwreck's artefacts presents an historic opportunity to honour the Titanic's lasting legacy and the memories of all who perished.

"As the first private donor to contribute to this effort, National Geographic is excited to be part of this latest chapter of the Titanic's history and to support the initiative to bring these artefacts home."

Mr Harvey added: "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.

"Therefore, 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."

DUP leader Arlene Foster, who attended the launch, pledged her "whole hearted support" to the campaign and said it was "time to bring the 5,500 Titanic artefacts home to Belfast".

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