Who Owns the Titanic?

The RMS Titanic was insured for £1 million and placed by the brokers Willis Faber & Co. The sum was paid promptly to the White Star Line.

Who were the underwriters then?

Well, if we look at the ‘Titanic’ slip we can see that there were seven big insurance companies who together paid out £380 000. That will make them the owners of TITANIC to 38%. The remaining 62% are shared by at least 70 different small insurance companies or small participants. These could be more than 100 persons. To trace all the heirs of these persons and their descendants would be nearly impossible.

Before we continue this discussion we must remember that we are now only talking about the hull and machinery of TITANIC. This does not have anything to do with personal belongings that were either insured or not. In any case the personal belongings are still the property of the persons or their heirs or if insured they belong to the insurance company. If anyone had made a statement of abandonment of their property, ship or goods, it could be regarded as res nullis, that is, free to take for anyone.

There is no paper whatsoever that shows that these insurance companies or the White Star Line has ever used the act of abandon on the wreck. It is therefore quite clear that we have the owners by these seven insurance companies including the other hundred owners. If we take the three big ones, they can claim the right of ownership at 22,5% of TITANIC. That means, they own 22,5% of everything that belongs to the ship and the machinery of the wreck. These three insurance companies are still in business but unfortunately refuse to claim their legal rights. If they did so they could stop the pillage of TITANIC and the involved countries (e.g. Great Britain, Canada and USA) could agree on a more planned and sedate future for the TITANIC.

There are no needs however to suggest this as an example of archaeologically disastrous behaviour. This ship, machinery, belongings and technology are very well documented in many different public ways, and there are no needs for the archaeological society to go upset. If they on the other hand were very concerned about our maritime history and its complex technology, they could work for, or even join, all the societies all over the world that have spent time and money to save our still floating marine history for generations to come.

Dr. Ballard and his colleagues should have credit for their arduous work combined with technical know how for the locating of the TITANIC.

 The objects taken from TITANIC will in any way be preserved and displayed in one way or another in a museum or a private collection like all other things from our heritage that so many private persons have taken responsibilities for with or without paying.

There are only two questions that are on stake here, the unwillingness or disrespect for legal ownership, and the lack of international agreement on these issues.

For those who want to penetrate further into this interesting and intriguing matter I could recommend the article by Marcel Berlin, "Who owns the Titanic?", Lloyd's log, November 1985. The original broking slip has been lost, but is reproduced in C Wright and C E Fayle, A history of Lloyd's, 1928.

Much of my material are from these sources and with the kind help from R M Harvey, Guildhall Library, London.

Bengt Grisell

The Baltic Sea Foundation

published on Nordic Underwater Archaeology, May 1999

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