By Arpita Mukherjee
(Reuters) - Artifacts recovered from the wreck of the Titanic are set to be sold for $189 million by Premier Exhibitions Inc, the company that holds the salvage rights to the doomed ocean liner.
The wreck, discovered by explorer Robert Ballard in 1985, has yielded more than 5,500 artifacts for Premier, which has made eight expeditions to the ship since 1987.
The exhibition items range from delicate porcelain dishes and silver cutlery to a 17-ton section of the hull, complete with portholes, pulled from the Atlantic seabed where the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank 100 years ago with the loss of more than 1,500 lives.
Premier's shares jumped 18 percent on Tuesday, after it said in a regulatory filing it had signed a non-binding letter of intent to sell the artifacts for $189 million to an unnamed group of individuals. (http://r.reuters.com/wag43t)
The company had been looking to sell its Titanic interests to concentrate on touring exhibitions but a federal court ruled last year that a sale must ensure that the entire Titanic collection is kept together.
"(The buyers) are obviously a group of significant means because they have to have the resources to display and care for the artifacts and they have to be suitable for court approvals," said Bill Vlahos, portfolio manager at hedge fund Odyssey Value Partners, which holds a stake in Premier.
Premier officials said on a conference call Monday that the firm expects the deal to satisfy all of the court's conditions.
The sale, still subject to finance and other conditions, was part of efforts to find a permanent home for the Titanic artifacts as well as deliver a return to shareholders, the company said in the filing.
Premier, through its RMS Titanic Inc subsidiary, is the only company permitted to recover objects from the Titanic, since it was granted salvor-in-possession rights by a U.S. court in 1994.
The company, also known for its "Bodies ... The Exhibition" and "Bodies Revealed" touring exhibitions, expects to license back the collection for use in exhibitions.
Premier's shares closed at $2.80 on the Nasdaq on Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Krithika Krishnamurthy, Editing by Anthony Kurian and Rodney Joyce)