RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - More than 5,000 artifacts salvaged from the wreck of the Titanic are on the market, including a 17-ton section of the luxury liner's hull.
Premier Exhibitions Inc., which has put some of the most dazzling selections on tour around the world, announced Wednesday it had ended a non-binding letter of intent with a consortium that would have brought the entire collection to Hampton Roads. The maritime-rich region saw most of the Titanic's artifacts brought there after the wreck was found in the 1980s and a Norfolk federal court sorted out salvage claims for two decades and outlined provisions for any future sales.
The agreement was ended because the consortium could not secure financing, among other reasons. The principles in the consortium have not been revealed.
But an attorney with Premier said Wednesday that the consortium has not been ruled out as a potential buyer, even though other parties have expressed an interest.
"There is always interest in the Titanic," said Brian Wainger, an outside counsel for Premier, which is based in Atlanta.
While the company did not list a sales price, in the past it has estimated the collection's value at between $100 million and $200 million.
The Titanic sank on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912, killing more than 1,500 of the 2,228 passengers and crew. An international team led by oceanographer Robert Ballard located the wreckage in 1985 on the North Atlantic seabed, about 400 miles off Newfoundland, Canada.
A Premier subsidiary, RMS Titanic Inc., oversees the Titanic collection as the court-recognized salvor, or steward of the artifacts.
Wainger said Premier, a publicly held company, has attempted to balance the profit-making interests of shareholders and the cost of maintaining "this cultural masterpiece for posterity." The collection includes silverware, china, gold coins and "The Big Piece" - the 17-ton section of the Titanic's hull.
Samuel Weiser, Premier's president and CEO, addressed the company's disappointing showing in a second-quarter report and the prospect of selling the artifacts. "We also understand the importance to our shareholders of monetizing our Titanic assets and are committed to effecting a sale that meets our criteria with regards to price, court satisfaction and tax efficiency," he wrote.
Last year's 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking stirred strong interest in Premier's collection, as well as other events and exhibits related to the world's most famous shipwreck.
"The interest has persisted through all these years of touring, but there's no question there was renewed interest following the 100th anniversary, so those numbers were exceptionally high," Wainger said.
A sale of the artifacts, most of which are kept in warehouses in Atlanta, is no simple transaction.
By order of a federal maritime judge in Virginia who has overseen the case for years, the items cannot be sold individually and they must go to a buyer who agrees to properly maintain the collection and make it available for occasional public viewing.
The vast majority of the Titanic's opulent furnishings, recreated in James Cameron's blockbuster film "Titanic," remain within the two main sections of the wreck. It is considered "sacred" and off limits to salvage expeditions.
Premier's artifacts were collected from the debris field around the Titanic.