Jan. 21 (UPI) -- A treaty between Britain and the United States to protect the wreck of the RMS Titanic, which regulates who has access to the historic wreck site, came into force Tuesday.
British Maritime Minister Nusrat Ghani declared the agreement in effect while on a visit to Belfast, Northern Ireland, on the spot where the Titanic was built and first launched in 1912.
Britain signed the agreement in 2003, but it wasn't ratified by the United States until last year. Under its terms, both governments have the power to grant or deny licences authorizing entry to the shipwreck or removal of artifacts from it.
Because it is in international waters, the wreck had previously been covered only by basic protections as a United Nations World Heritage Site.
"This momentous agreement with the United States to preserve the wreck means it will be treated with the sensitivity and respect owed to the final resting place of more than 1,500 lives," Ghani said in a statement. "The U.K. will now work closely with other North Atlantic States to bring even more protection to the wreck of the Titanic."
Titanic set sail on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, on April 10, 1912, but struck an iceberg five days later en route to New York City. It broke apart and sank to a spot on the bottom more than two miles from the surface and wasn't located until 1985, about 350 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland. Since then, thousands of artifacts and a section of its hull have been removed by a private company under an exclusive license.
For years, Britain, the United States and other nations had been negotiating a permanent way to protect the wreck. Ghani said he hopes to persuade Canada and France to also sign the treaty.