Mike McDowell is a star of adventure tourism. For $19,000, he or one of his companies will sell you a berth on a Russian icebreaker that cuts its way to the North Pole. For $25,000, he will fly you to the South Pole.
And now, for $32,500, he's offering 60 people the thrill of a lifetime, a chance to go down more than two miles into the inky depths of the North Atlantic to view the rusting hulk of the Titanic.There is just one hitch. His "Operation Titanic" has hit something nearly as dangerous as an iceberg: lawyers.
RMS Titanic, the American company that owns the salvage rights to the celebrated wreck and puts on shows of Titanic artifacts, wants no one else near its treasure, not even rich people with cameras. It plans to try to block the tourist venture, which says it already has 45 customers.
RMS Titanic is to file a motion Monday in U.S. court in Norfolk, Va., seeking a preliminary injunction against McDowell, his company Deep Ocean Expeditions, its agents and its consultants.
The chief lawyer for RMS Titanic, Allan Carlin, said, "We're going to do everything we can to protect the wreck and our rights relative to the wreck."
But McDowell insists that he, too, is ready for judicial war, if not engagement on the high seas.
"We think the injunction is appealable," he said. "If it's going to cause any problems, we'll take whatever steps are necessary to challenge it."
Both groups are planning August expeditions. The surface of the sea over the Titanic is calmest then, and ships can most easily launch the sturdy little craft known as submersibles, which can withstand the crushing pressures of the deep.
During the dives in August, the salvors plan to use experts to hunt for artifacts. And the adventurers plan to have tourists ogling the wreck.
Both sides claim the moral high ground. The salvors say they are preserving the sunken ship for posterity, and the adventure company says it is respecting the watery grave by leaving it undisturbed.
But both sides also concede that they are in it for the money.