Wreck of Titanic sister ship finds new destiny as tourist attraction

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Nearly 92 years have elapsed since Captain Charles Bartlett, standing in his pyjamas on the bridge of the biggest vessel in the world, the HMHS Britannic, gave the call to abandon ship.

It was 8.35am on November 21 1916. The four-funnel ocean liner, built to be even larger and safer than the "unsinkable" Titanic, her ill-fated sister, was listing fast. Bartlett knew the ship was doomed, but on this eerily calm morning as it sailed to collect troops wounded in the first world war's Balkans campaign, neither he nor any of his crew could have imagined the speed with which the vessel would go down.

The explosion occurred at 8.12am, sending a giant shudder through the gargantuan vessel, badly damaging its bow as it steamed past the Greek island of Kea. Fifty-five minutes later, the 269-metre (883ft) "wonder ship" lay starboard side down on the seabed.

There the Britannic, which was launched in February 1914 at Belfast, and, the following year, put to use as a wartime hospital ship for the first time, would stay at a depth of 122 metres (400ft), untouched and forgotten, until being discovered by the explorer Jacques Cousteau, in 1975.

Now, the mystery, and controversy that has shrouded this vessel - which sank so quickly compared with the 160 or so minutes taken by the Titanic - could soon be lifted.

There are plans to turn the shipwreck into a spectacular underwater museum. Its location, which until now has been glimpsed only by a handful of divers, will be opened up to tourists. The aim is for the first tours in submersibles to begin next summer.

Wonderfully intact

Simon Mills, a British marine historian who bought the shipwreck from the UK government in 1996 and who organised the underwater project with Greek officials, told the Guardian: "Our plan is to start off with three- or four-seater submersibles. The Titanic lies in the cold waters of the north Atlantic and is rapidly disintegrating because of iron-eating bacteria, in a couple of hundred years there will be very little that is recognisable. But the Britannic is completely different. She lies in warm waters, is very well preserved and wonderfully intact. For so long she has been eclipsed by her older sister but she also has her own story to tell."..

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