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Pricey Titanic wreck tours

Adventure tourists with money in the bank have a new bucket list travel item: a spot on a submarine diving 3,800 metres down to the rusting remains of one history's most iconic shipwrecks.

Week-long expeditions to the Titanic are set to depart from St. John's, N.L., this June, in the first manned surveys of the decaying vessel since 2005.

A ride on the aptly named Titan submarine costs just over $168,000 per ticket.

Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, the U.S. company running the show, defended the hefty price tag, saying the trip is more than worthwhile for an experience he said is more rare than space travel.

"What we're doing is something that's going to add to the historical record of the Titanic — what is it like now, how is it decaying, what kind of marine life is there. We're going to be making real discoveries," Rush said in a phone interview from Washington state.

"It's going to be a different experience but one that's got this greater good component."

The "mission specialists," as passengers are called, range in age from their early 20s to late 70s. They will take a hands-on role in data gathering, with training in underwater photography, sonar operation and other note-taking duties.

Less strenuous than space travel, Rush said the biggest physical requirement is agility — like the ability to climb a ladder or stand on a chair without assistance, for example.

"If you can board an airplane on your own and haul your bag into the luggage container, you probably can do this," he said.

There are a number of "unknown unknowns" to explore on each week-long mission at the site of the ocean disaster. The accident claimed the lives of more than 1,500 people in April 1912, after the Titanic hit an iceberg about 600 kilometres off Newfoundland's southeast coast.

Explorers will seek to answer the question of how fast "rusticles," or bacteria, are devouring the ship's remains.

Bacterial damage done to the vessel since the last robotic survey in 2010 may have revealed previously unseen corners of the wreck, Rush said, possibly exposing more artifacts and personal effects from the so-called unsinkable ship's drowned travellers.

Each dive on the five-person submarine will last eight hours. When not exploring the depths of the cold Atlantic, mission specialists will be able to help assemble a virtual reality project with partner Virtual Wonders. The project aims reconstruct the hull and eventually bring the wreck site to a wide audience.

Only two of the 54 spots remain open for the six 2019 expeditions, and more are available for 2020. Rush anticipates the findings from this year's expeditions could uncover more clues for OceanGate to chase on return visits.



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