Dr Robert Ballard the unknown explorer who discovered the sunk Titanic returned to Belfast City to make a documentary, marking the centenary of the tragic disaster.
Belfast was the obvious choice for filming of the documentary “The Man Who Found the Titanic”.
More than quarter of a century after he discovered the great Belfast ship 350 miles south east of St. John’s in Newfoundland he is still bombarded with questions about his discovery. Speaking to the BBC he said that rather than get annoyed by this he sees it as a new discovery and a gateway into science and technology.
Ballard said “I know it is constantly re-discovered by every generation…I find the most useful part of it is the fascination of young people. When we came home from the discovery trip I was surprised to find 16,000 letters on my desk from young people.
"I'm able to use their fascination in the Titanic to get them to be fascinated in science and technology. So I see it as an opportunity to get young people interested in undersea exploration and the science so that they will study a little harder in school."
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As the fascination with the Titanic seems never ending the urge to attempt to bring artifacts back to the surface continues. It’s most likely this would have already have been attempted except for the fact that the journey from miles below sea-level would crush the objects.
However Ballard believes this claim is simply self-serving. He believes that although the ship is being eroded by iron-munching microbes it is the Titanic tourists that are destroying the boat.
He said “Actually, I find that the greatest damage being done to the Titanic is by visitors. People going down and hitting it with submarines. The submarines are doing far more damage. When cameras have gone deep inside the Titanic, where there is very little oxygen, it is in a high state of preservation, so I think it is going to be there for a long, long, long time."
Belfast was once not so proud of the amazing ship built by the city’s Harland and Wolff. Locals would simply see the ship as a symbol of the loss of over 1,500 souls, or feel a kind of shame that the ship had sunk at all.
Ballard says that almost 100 years on he’s happy to see the ship being celebrated.
He said “I'm glad that Belfast is finally proud of having built the Titanic…They built an amazing ship. It wasn't their fault that it sank. It was an amazing piece of engineering. So I am really pleased that they are now proud of what they did…It sank - get over it!".
Currently the city is putting the finishing touches to a $160million building (£100m) for the centenary at the Titanic Quarter, just beside where the ship was launched.
Whether Belfast has overcome their discomfort at the fact that the Titanic sank or not what’s plain is that the world is fascinated by the ship.
Nothing illustrates this better thank the barrage of the questions the Dr Ballard is bombarded with in a school years in Belfast. The children ask “How long did it take to get to the wreck? What is it like in a tiny submarine?” and many more.
Perhaps Ballard’s upcoming documentary will answer some of their questions.
Footage of the Titanic taken by Robert Ballard and his team:
TED Talk – “Robert Ballard: Exploring the ocean's hidden worlds”: