Premier Exhibition’s Titanic Relics. (Source: Premier Exhibition Website) 

Hedge Funds to Buy Sunken Titanic Relics for $19.5 Million

(Bloomberg) -- A company that owns 5,500 relics from the sunken luxury liner R.M.S. Titanic will sell the collection to a group of hedge funds for $19.5 million after an auction for the artifacts was canceled.

The offer from the group of investment funds, led by Premier Exhibitions Inc. Chief Executive Officer and Director Daoping Bao, was the only one for the collection, according to court filings. Premier currently owns the items acquired from survivors or salvaged from the ship, which sank in 1912. Bao is the company’s largest shareholder.

A unit of the Atlanta-based Premier sought bankruptcy protection in 2016 to deal with a cash crunch. It proposed selling the collection, which includes jewelry, clothing and statutes. In 2014, the company’s assets had been valued at $218 million.

A group of U.K.-based museums, including the Belfast-based Titanic Museum, considered offering $21.5 million to top the investment funds, but never lodged a formal bid. The luxury liner was built in Belfast’s shipyards.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Paul Glenn in Jacksonville, Florida, will decide Oct. 18 whether to approve the hedge funds’ bid. A federal judge in Norfolk, Virginia, who oversees salvage activities at the wreck, must also approve any sale.

The judge in Virginia has put in place restrictions that would make it difficult for the collection to be sold piecemeal. Bao’s group, which includes investment funds such as Hong Kong-based PacBridge Capital Partners Ltd. and U.S.-based Apollo Global Management, vowed to keep the artifacts together. Along with the relics, the investment group also acquires the salvage rights for the 107-year-old wreck.

The Premier unit’s shareholders pushed Glenn to allow only some of the relics to be auctioned off to satisfy their $10 million in claims. Charles Zehren, an Apollo spokesman, declined to comment Wednesday on the group’s winning bid.

Premier organizes Titanic displays around the world, including at the Queen Mary hotel in Long Beach, California, the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, and the Guangdong Museum in China. In recent years, the business was expanded to include exhibitions such as animatronic dinosaurs, human cadavers and bugs, along with sets and props from the Saturday Night Live television show.

The case is RMS Titanic Inc., 16-02230, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Middle District of Florida (Jacksonville).

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.