The wreck of the Titanic is to be protected by a new international treaty between the UK and the US.
The remains of the ship, which sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic in 1912, will be treated with “sensitivity and respect”, according to maritime minister Nusrat Ghani.
The treaty gives the UK and the US the power to grant or deny licences to enter sections of the sunken ship’s hull and remove artefacts.
A diving expedition last summer revealed Titanic is starting to collapse.
The passenger liner has been underwater for more than a century, lying in international waters about 350 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.
The Titanic had previously been granted a “basic level of protection” by Unesco, but this is the first time it is covered by explicit legislation, according to the Department for Transport.
The UK signed the treaty in 2003, but it has only come into force following its ratification by US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in November last year, the department said.
Canada and France were involved in the negotiations but have still not signed the agreement.
The ship was built in Belfast and set off on its maiden voyage from Southampton on 10 April 1912. Five days later, it struck an iceberg, broke apart and sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic. More than 1,500 people were killed.
Dozens of expeditions to the wreck have been carried out since it was discovered in 1985.
There are plans for a replica of the ship, named Titanic II, to follow the same route in 2022.
Experts claim many artefacts have been removed and the ship has suffered serious damage from mini-submarines landing on its surface.
“Lying two and a half miles below the ocean surface, the RMS Titanic is the subject of the most documented maritime tragedy in history,” said Ms Ghani.
“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.
“The UK will now work closely with other North Atlantic states to bring even more protection to the wreck of the Titanic.”
Ms Ghani will mark the signing of the treaty with the US by visiting the 1851 Trust Maritime Roadshow for Girls in Belfast.
The event aims to inspire girls to study science, technology, engineering and maths, known as “Stem” subjects, which are vital in the maritime sector.
Judith Owens, chief executive of visitor attraction Titanic Belfast, said: “We welcome any additional protection and safeguarding of the wreck, in line with the views of our strategic partner Dr Robert Ballard, who discovered her in 1985.”