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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 November, 2003, 16:32 GMT
UK agrees to Titanic protection
The Titanic
1,500 passengers were lost in the Titanic sinking
The UK has become the first country to sign an international agreement protecting the wreck of the Titanic.

It was signed on Thursday by shipping minister David Jamieson and it is hoped the US, France and Canada will be the next to join the agreement which becomes active when signed by two countries.

Intrusive dives on the ship, which lies in international waters off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, have caused widespread concern.

The Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton in 1912 with the loss of 1,523 lives.

Most of the victims were never found and remain in their watery grave.

Dives restricted

The new agreement recognises the liner and its surrounding area as a memorial to those who lost their lives as well as "a historical wreck of exceptional international importance".

It means dives will have to be licensed by all the participating governments.

Since the wreck was discovered in 1985, six expeditions have been conducted to the wreck site, 729 km (453 miles) southeast of the Newfoundland coastline.

The first was in 1987 and the most recent in 2000.

Six thousand artefacts have been recovered, some have been sold for profit.

Media and public interest in the ill-fated voyage remains strong, thanks partly to the success of James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster film about the tragedy.

Memorabilia from the ship continues to command high prices.

The last known photographs taken of Titanic before it sank sold for more than 14,000 at auction earlier this year.

The RMS Titanic salvage company currently has sole rights to the wreck under American law.

The new treaty should give wider international protection.

About 700 people survived the Titanic sinking but only three are believed to still be living.

One of them, Millvina Dean, in her 90s and from Hampshire, lost her father in the tragedy and has been critical of the industry which has emerged from it since the wreck was found.

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