The British government has announced plans to turn the old Harland and Wolff dockyard in east Belfast into “Titanic Quarter”, the biggest property development scheme ever undertaken in Northern Ireland.
The project is a public-private partnership between the Port of Belfast and Titanic Quarter Ltd, a private company that is ultimately owned by the Dublin-based developers, Harcourt.
The project’s official launch came just as it was being revealed that after 93 years on the ocean bed, bacteria are slowly turning the 900-foot long vessel into an unrecognizable ruin.
There is no oxygen at 12,850 feet down. Although it had been thought that no rusting would take place, decks are collapsing and the remains of the vessel have become so unsafe that some divers won’t approach the wreck.
Microorganisms are eating the manganese, iron and sulphur out of the steel – a process that ultimately produces the same effect as rusting. The bacteria form “homes” called “rusticles” because of their icicle shape.
Lori Johnston, a Canadian scientist who has dived on Titanic a number of times, says the microbes will eventually collapse the ship through a natural process that has been going on for millennia.
Scientists estimate that in about 250 years Titanic will have gone, failing to outlast the great wooden ships of past centuries or to provide a subject for archaeologists.
Meanwhile, the Titanic name is assured of a long future after the announcement of the redevelopment of Belfast’s former shipyard area over the next twenty years, costing up to one billion pounds.
Work to clear the 185-acre docklands site is already underway with the plans including 3,000 homes, office and commercial developments that could employ up to 20,000 people.