THE wreck of the Titanic which sank after hitting an iceberg on her maiden voyage nearly a hundred years ago is to be lost forever — after boffins revealed it is being EATEN.
Scientists examining the superstructure of what was the world’s largest passenger steamship say a newly discovered bacteria is feasting on the iron that it was constructed from.
They have revealed that the ocean going liner — which went down with the loss of 1517 lives in 1912 — will be nothing more than a rust stain on the ocean floor within 20 years.
The bacteria which has been named Halmonas Titanicae has been consuming the 50,000 tons of iron on board since the Titanic split in two and sank two and a half miles down.
Experts who have been examining the microscopic bacteria found on the wreck when samples were first brought up in 1991 estimate that the Titanic will have vanished by 2030.
Chairman of the Irish Titanic Historical Society Ed Coghlan said: “This research backs up what divers who have been down to the wreck have seen that the ship is falling apart.
“Fortunately it has been photographed extensively and there are wonderful videos and still shots to show us what it looked like underwater so there will always be a record of it.
“In the future people might think it is a shame we didn’t do more to preserve it but the reality is to preserve it would cost an absolute fortune and is probably impossible.
It may be that as the structure of the wreck disappears more of the interior becomes accessible so in the long run we may be able to learn even more about the Titanic itself.
“The Titanic is a very human story from its construction to its sinking and the re-discovery and it will be fascinating to see what happens to the wreck in the coming years.”
The discovery that the Titanic was being eaten was made by Dr Henrietta Mann and Bhavleen Kaur from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, along with researchers from the University of Sevilla, Spain.
Dr Mann, adjunct professor with the Department of Civil Engineering, said: “I think Titanic has maybe 15 or 20 years left. I don’t think it will have too much longer than that.
“It has already lasted for 100 years but eventually there will be nothing left but a rust stain on the bottom of the Atlantic to remember this once magnificent ocean liner from.”
The bacteria, from the family Halomonadaceae, was discovered in rusticles collected from the wreck by a team of scientists in 1991 which have been studied for 20 years.
The rusticles covered the metal surface of Titanic and are home to a host of microorganisms from which Halomonas Titanicae was isolated and found to be the one eating the iron.
Its destructive tendencies mean the rusticles will eventually disintegrate into a fine powder in the salt water.
Dr Mann said: “The rusticles on Titanic are made from a composition of different microorganisms and there is one particular bacteria which particularly likes eating iron.
“But we have now identified one which particularly likes eating iron.
“To explain it in human terms, not every type of bacteria has the same taste, so if you present different people with a plate of chocolate and cheese some may prefer one and some the other.
“This is a type of bacteria which particularly likes eating iron. Nature is very clever, and everything is recalled eventually. Nature makes it, and nature claims it back.
“In this case, the bacteria helps to decompose the ship.”
The Titanic, dubbed the “unsinkable” ship, famously struck a giant iceberg and sank in under three hours on April 15, 1912, killing more than 1,500 passengers and crew.
It lay unseen on the ocean floor for decades, until 1985, when an American-French expedition identified its final resting place 329 miles south east of Newfoundland.
The wreck, which was split into two sections 2,000ft (600m) apart, has now been the focus of research by scientists and historians for 25 years since it was rediscovered.
It is not yet known if the new species of bacteria was present on the RMS Titanic before or after it sank or whether it is a unique strand to that particular wreck.
Dr Mann and her team have published their findings in the latest issue of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.
The Titanic sealed its position as the world’s most famous ship in the 1997 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet which scooped 11 Oscars equalling the record set by Ben Hur in 1959.