Will Eilat soon be the mecca of Titanic tourists? An unidentified individual has offered to purchase some NIS 1 billion worth of artifacts from the sunken passenger ship, and to make the southern city their permanent home.
The 5,500 artifacts are due to soon be sold by Guernsey, an auctioning house from New York, and include maps of the disaster area, photos of the wreck on the bottom of the ocean, and 1,000 hours of video footage documenting the seven diving expeditions held at the site since 1987.
Talking to Haaretz from his office in New York, Arlan Ettinger, Guernsey's director, explained the rules of the unique sale: "A U.S. court that debated several the issue of the ownership of the collection has stipulated that it might be sold only as one single collection and that, furthermore, the buyer must take extreme care of the collection, and commit to exhibiting parts of it permanently to the general public, either lending it to museums or as a commercial show. The buyer must be approved by the court. The process might take several weeks. Potential buyers can place their offers with Guernsey by April 2nd, and the result will be made public by mid-April."
Naturally, Ettinger cannot say who the potential buyers are, but reveals that one is interested in purchasing the collection on behalf of Eilat, and exhibiting it there. Ettinger believes that the collection has a tremendous tourist potential.
"This collection is a basis for a full-fledged tourist industry. People from all over the world want to see the remains of the Titanic and for that purpose would fly anywhere in the world, even to Eilat," he says.
Eilat officials told Haaretz they knew nothing about the initiative.
Ettinger says it's still to early to know how many offers will be submitted: "All my life I've directed auctions and events where the participants behave like poker players. They keep their cards close to their chests, and reveal information only at the very last minute. We're talking with many people but have no idea what the results will be."
The initial value of the collection was estimated in 2007 at $190 million, by a U.S. court, but Ettinger believes it is unrealistically low: "Lately, one painting alone was sold for $230 million - isn't the whole Titanic collection worth more than that?" The RMS Titanic, the most luxurious passenger ship of her time, sank in the Northern Atlantic Ocean on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, after colliding with an iceberg on the night between April 14th and April 15th, 1912. More than 1,500 passengers and crew drowned that night. In 1985 the remains of the ship were discovered, and since 1987 a US court has allowed RMS Titanic Inc. to collect items from the wreckage; they have been viewed by some 25 million visitors. All the artifacts, even those identified by descendants of the passengers, are owned by the company that retrieved them from the wreckage.
Items from the Titanic are currently featured in six touring exhibitions around the world.