The man who discovered the site of the world's most famous shipwreck has said the wreckage of the Titanic needs greater protection.
The Titanic sank on its maiden voyage to New York
Dr Robert Ballard found the site where the luxury liner sank in 1985, and now says undersea tourists and souvenir hunters are hastening its decay.
The Belfast-built ship sank in 1912 with the loss of more than 1,500 lives.
Mr Ballard returned to the site in June and said he was shocked at its deterioration.
He said he wanted the United States government to pass legislation giving greater protection to the sunken vessel.
Most alarming, he said, was damage caused by submersibles landing on the deck.
"It's sort of like going into the Louvre with a bulldozer," he said.
Mr Ballard will be in Washington this week, lobbying for
Congress to approve a treaty signed by the State Department in June aimed at protecting the wreck.
He hopes France and Russia, from where many tour
operators to the Titanic operate, will sign the treaty.
The United Kingdom signed the accord in November 2003.
About 6,000 artifacts have been removed from the Titanic and its debris field since Ballard found the ship 13,000 feet below the surface of the North Atlantic.
Mr Ballard said curiosity about the wreck was natural, but that new technology had the potential to see the wreck wired to send live images, and remove the need for visitors.
He fears if the Titanic is not protected then other
lesser-known ships have no hope of being respected.
"If we can't protect the Titanic, we can't protect anything. The Titanic is my soap box to talk about this larger issue about ancient history," he said.
He estimates there are more than a million ships of antiquity lost in the deep sea and like the Titanic, these could provide important information about our history.