R.I.P.

WHERE is the line drawn between scientific curiosity and merely morbid curiosity? The ``salvage'' operations, if that is the term, being conducted by the French crew bringing up items from the wreckage of the Titanic have occasioned charges of grave robbing and exploitation.

But Taurus International, the Paris-based organization that has mounted this state-of-the-art operation, has also had its defenders, notably among the advocates of free enterprise, come what may.

At a press conference last week, Taurus chairman Robert Chappaz insisted that the artifacts would not be sold but put on public display, with due respect for those who died. But it was also confirmed that actor Telly Savalas has been booked to unveil the artifacts on a television ``docutainment'' feature to be broadcast worldwide from Geneva in October.

The sinking of the Titanic, in which over 1,500 people perished, has exercised a certain fascination over the years. Three-quarters of a century have gone by since, but it's not yet ancient history. A number of survivors of the disaster remain, and so do relatives of Titanic victims.

The artifacts being recovered - including banknotes and jewels - do not have archaeological significance in the sense that artifacts from truly ancient civilizations do. There are other, much less costly, ways of learning about the kind of china services in use in 1912.

There have been no human remains discovered in the wreckage, and so the public has been spared one possible element of ghoulishness on the nightly newscast. Still, one wonders, why not just leave the ship in peace?

There oughtta be a law! has been the indignant response from some quarters to the Titanic scavenging. Well, there isn't, as far as we can tell. But not everything that is possible is a good idea. We wonder whether there might not be better uses for the salvors' splendid underwater technologies than this.

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