Skip to content

Paul-Henri Nargeolet, after eight expeditions and around thirty dives on the wreck, you have just published “In the depths of the Titanic” (1). When did you meet the liner?

After a career of more than twenty years in the French Navy, in mine clearance and underwater intervention, Ifremer contacted me in 1985, to suggest that I take part in the very first expedition to recover objects from the Titanic. The wreckage had just been found (2). I said to myself, do not miss such an opportunity!

It was therefore in 1987 that I dived for the first time on what remains of the liner. It was really a mixture of feelings. At the same time, we were very happy with the team to say to themselves, “finally, we are there! and at the same time there was a lot of emotion and sadness. Even if we were used to seeing wrecks, that of the Titanic is really special.

Since then, you have taken part in seven other expeditions and recovered thousands of objects. This has sometimes caused controversy, with some believing that the Titanic is comparable to a tomb…

Eva Hart, one of the survivors, was, indeed, very angry that objects were brought up because, for her, it was the place where her father had died and it should not be touched. Conversely, Edith Haiseman, another survivor, was very interested in what we were doing. Once she even asked me if I could get the necklace her mother had left in her cabin.

I respect both positions. But it should be noted that we did not search the boat: we took the objects from a vast field of debris, next to the wreck. It should also be understood that the vast majority of passengers died of cold in the water, on the surface: very few were trapped on board. (3)

For you, is it important to recover these objects?

They are the historical memory of the wreck. Thanks to them, we were able to learn more about the history of the passengers. It’s paying homage to those who have disappeared, by making sure that they are not just a name on a list. The wreckage is destined to disappear, while the objects will remain.

This is why we still want to recover certain objects, for example the TSF equipment, which is of great historical interest. But if we wait too long to recover them, we will no longer be able to do so because the wreckage is deteriorating.

This Brestois dived thirty times on the wreck of the Titanic – World
The wreck, lying at a depth of 3,821 meters in the Atlantic Ocean, is deteriorating rapidly, in particular because of bacteria which are eating away at the hull. (Royalty Free Photo)

Some are also announcing the disappearance of the wreck by 2030, because of the bacteria attacking it…

It’s been thirty-five years since I heard that the wreck will disappear in twenty years! It is certain that bacteria play a role in the deterioration of the Titanic. But we will still have traces of the wreckage 200 or 300 years from now. For example, there are four-storey high reciprocating machines that are not about to disappear.

To save the wreck from disappearance, some people dream of bailing it out, but it’s impossible. It is too fragile, and it would cost far too much. It would also be a real headache to restore.

We often read that the wreck was discovered by the American Robert Ballard. But in your book, you insist on the role of French teams from Ifremer. Why ?

The wreckage was discovered during a Franco-American mission, led on one side by Robert Ballard, and on the other by Jean-Louis Michel, from Ifremer. When the Titanic was spotted, it was a Frenchman who was behind the control screens. Ballard was sleeping and it was a cook who went to alert him. Admittedly, the boat from which the wreckage was spotted was American. But the discovery is the result of real teamwork. On board, everyone is important. It’s like a clock: if one gear malfunctions, everything stops.

This Brestois dived thirty times on the wreck of the Titanic – World
It was on board the Nautile, Ifremer’s pocket submarine, that Paul-Henri Nargeolet was able to dive to see the wreck. (Royalty Free Image)

After more than thirty years of your life devoted to wreckage, are there still gray areas that you would like to elucidate?

There is still a lot to do and discover on the Titanic. For example, the back of the boat was much more damaged during the sinking. As a result, it is not always easy to understand what we see. With current technologies, it could be easier and we could recover other objects.

Normally, I should return to the wreck this summer, to make an inventory of the fauna and flora that develop around the wreck.

Finally, why do you think that 110 years later, the Titanic continues to fascinate?

I think everyone finds a different focus here. For some, it’s the liner itself, for others, the story of the characters… There are several entry points to approach the Titanic. But once you’ve stuck your head in it, it’s hard to get out! The film (by James Cameron) is also surely there for something. The Titanic is a magic word: as soon as you say it, people are interested. I think that there is no historical event that fascinates so many people as this one.

1. “In the depths of the Titanic”, published by Harper Collins, 144 pages, €18.

2. The wreck was found in 1985 in the North Atlantic, at a depth of 3,821 m.

3. No human remains were detected during the various expeditions.

letelegramme Fr Trans

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.