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5,500 Titanic artifacts head for auction in '12

The owner of the largest trove of artifacts salvaged from the Titanic is putting the vast collection up for auction as a single lot in 2012, the 100th anniversary of the world's most famous shipwreck.

More than 5,500 items including fine china, ship fittings and portions of hull that were recovered from the ocean liner have an estimated value of $189 million, according to Premier Exhibitions Inc., parent of RMS Titanic Inc. -- the Titanic's court-approved salvor.

The auction is scheduled for April 1 by Guernsey's, a New York City auction house, according to filings by Premier Exhibitions Inc. with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Results of the auction won't be announced until April 15, the date a century ago the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage after striking an iceberg.

The auction is subject to approval by a federal judge in Virginia.

The Titanic treasures were amassed during seven perilous trips to the wreck, which rests about 2 1/2 miles below the ocean surface in the North Atlantic. More than 1,500 of the 2,228 passengers and crew died.

An international team led by oceanographer Robert Ballard located the wreckage in 1985, about 400 miles off Newfoundland.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith, who has overseen the case from her Norfolk courtroom, has ruled that RMS Titanic has title to the artifacts and was entitled to full compensation for them. She has not determined how RMS Titanic will be compensated.

Smith, a maritime jurist who has called the Titanic an "international treasure," has approved covenants and conditions that the company previously worked out with the federal government, including a prohibition against selling the collection piecemeal.

The conditions, which accompanied a 2010 ruling, also require RMS to make the artifacts available "to present and future generations for public display and exhibition, historical review, scientific and scholarly research, and educational purposes."

Atlanta-based Premier Exhibitions has been displaying the Titanic artifacts in exhibitions around the world. The items include personal belongings of passengers, such as perfume from a manufacturer who was traveling to New York to sell his samples.

Premier has acknowledged that any future owner of the Titanic treasures must abide by the covenants and conditions.

In accordance with court's conditions, "The property will be sold as a complete collection and offered for sale as one lot," Guernsey's wrote in its SEC filing, which outlines the terms of the auction. The auction house's commission is 8 percent of a successful bid.

In 2010, RMS Titanic collaborated with some of the world's leading experts in the most technologically advanced expedition to the Titanic, undertaking the first comprehensive mapping survey of the vessel with 3-D imagery from bow to stern.

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