Titanic mass grave site to be pillaged for NFTs

Company claims that's the best way to put 'historical' legacy in the hands of the global public

Comment What does the Titanic have in common with NFTs? Not much. One lives on in the collective psyche as a monument to hubris while the other refuses to just sink already.

Still, apropos of nothing except the smell of filthy blockchain-adjacent lucre, RMS Titanic Inc (RMST), which has been collecting artifacts associated with the ship since the 1980s, has hooked up with NFT flinger Artifact Labs and Venture Smart Financial Holdings to "bring the RMS Titanic and its physical artifacts into Web3."

The ship sank into the frigid Atlantic in 1912, taking the lives of more than 1,500 people aboard.

Aiming to "place the legacy of the Titanic in the hands of the global public," at least those dumb enough to dabble in NFTs, the name of the game is to preserve "assets from the ocean liner as immutable NFTs" and allow "inclusive participation in RMST, which holds the exclusive rights to recover artifacts from the wreck site."

According to the announcement, Venture Smart Financial Holdings, Hong Kong's first approved virtual asset manager, will "lead in structuring the tokenization of the intellectual property and also develop tokenized instruments for accredited investors, drawing on its expertise as a licensed virtual asset manager. This will enable compliant capital raising for the ongoing research, recovery, preservation, exhibition, and licensing of RMST's assets."

Artifact Labs will then go about "immutably" preserving "5,500 recovered physical artifacts from the Titanic with its NFT standard for historical assets on the blockchain." RMST controversially has sole salvaging rights to the wreck so fresh relics from future dives will be minted as "ARTIFACTs."

Jessica Sanders, RMST president, said: "We remain dedicated to sharing the legacy of the Titanic, her passengers and crew, with people around the world. As the salvor-in-possession of the Titanic wreck site, we are determined to ensure that the Ship's artifacts are preserved in perpetuity and accessible to future generations. We believe that moving into the digital space allows us to reach a broader audience with quality programming that educates and inspires. We are excited to have found the expertise and partners to help us reach those goals."

While RMST goes to great pains to paint itself in a sympathetic light, the actions of the company show that the world's most famous shipwreck is just there to be milked – hence NFTs as another revenue stream.

Before the first salvage expedition set sail in 1987, survivor Eva Hart protested: "To bring up those things from a mass sea grave just to make a few thousand pounds shows a dreadful insensitivity and greed."

RMST emerged as the "salvor-in-possession" after decades of squabbling over dead people's possessions even though Judge Paul Niemeyer described "a free finders-keepers policy" as "a short step from active piracy and pillaging."

Still, RMST was allowed to retain and put on display some 5,500 looted items – which it did... at the Luxor Casino in Las Vegas of all places. The traveling exhibition has since been visited by millions in locations all over the world.

It argued being named owner of the collection, valued at more than $200 million, was necessary to cover the costs of its dives. Meanwhile, shareholders had been pushing the company to chase more profit. As part of the court ruling, RMST was not allowed to break up the collection.

Thanks in part to the success of the Titanic attraction in Belfast, Northern Ireland, near where the ship was built, parent company Premier Exhibitions filed for bankruptcy in 2018, whereupon it immediately sought to gain rights to sell off the artifacts, including valuable jewelry, with a minimum bid set at $21.5 million to pay creditors.

A consortium of museums and heritage organizations pulled together to try to save the collection, but could not raise enough money. Instead, Premier was bailed out by three hedge funds for $19.5 million and the auction was canceled.

In 2020, RMST managed to overturn a UNESCO protection that forbade cutting into or detaching any part of the Titanic – ostensibly to recover the Marconi telegraph machine which made the ship's final distress calls.

However, this also means more treasure will be made more accessible – therefore more "ARTIFACTs" to be minted. And there is no guarantee new finds won't be sold off to the highest bidder.

RMST's NFT venture is scant on details. While the violin played as the Titanic sank sold at auction for $1.7 million in 2013, we can't imagine a digital picture of it, or even a 3D scan, fetching a fraction of the price. Sadly, due to the misplaced fervor around the mass grave, Titanic fanatics may be persuaded to wade into the NFT world and give RMST the encouragement it clearly doesn't need to further dismantle the site.

Although NFTs crashed in value last year because of tribulation in the wider cryptocurrency market, projects like this continue to pop up, rugs continue to be pulled, and people continue to lose money. Sadder still, while the Titanic was fatally touted to be unsinkable, it's NFTs that refuse to go the same way. ®

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