LONDON — Divers scouring the Titanic for diamonds said on Saturday they were racing against time before the wreck is lost forever.
But the youngest survivor of the 1912 disaster pleaded with salvage experts to leave the stricken liner alone.
"We can see through scientific testing that the ship is deteriorating at a very, very rapid rate. The ocean is basically eating the Titanic alive," said G. Michael Harris, founder of the salvage company RMS Titanic Inc.
"Our fear is that we are racing against time to be able to rescue these artifacts and bring them back to the surface before they are lost forever," he told BBC Radio.
"We will hopefully be able to recover some of the first-class luggage out of the cargo hold as well as the registered mail," he said.
He said they had recovered about 5 percent of the artifacts off the Titanic, which sank after striking an iceberg on April 14, 1912, killing 1,500 crew and passengers.
Making the first manned dives into the wreckage, they will be searching for a shipment of diamonds along with passengers' jewelry, which Titanic experts believe was hurriedly stashed in bags.
"Two brothers were coming out of Switzerland. They had a shipment of diamonds they were bringing back to New York with them that they lost on Titanic, which today would be valued at over $300 million," Harris said.
Using manned submersibles and a miniature remote-operated vehicle, the salvors plan to gather artifacts left behind in the front cargo hold and peer into adjacent rooms.
Millvena Dean, the youngest living survivor of the disaster who was just 9 weeks old when the ship went down, said: "I think it is all wrong. I think the ship should be left in peace.