An attempt to bring 5,500 artefacts salvaged from the wreck of the Titanic to Belfast is almost certainly over.
The National Maritime Museum Greenwich and National Museums Northern Ireland said they decided not to submit a bid for the items.
Current owners, Premier Exhibitions, are selling them after filing for bankruptcy in the United States.
A UK consortium had been attempting to raise over $19m (£14m) to buy the artefacts.
Titanic Belfast and Titanic Foundation Limited were part of that consortium alongside the National Maritime Museum Greenwich and National Museums Northern Ireland.
However, after a hedge fund consortium launched a rival bid, a US court ruled that potential buyers would need to raise at least $21.5 (£16.5) to trigger an auction for the items.
BBC News NI understands that the bid from the hedge fund consortium was the only qualifying bid when the sale deadline passed at 16:00 EST on Friday.
In a statement to BBC News NI confirming they had not submitted a bid for artefacts, the National Maritime Museum Greenwich and National Museums Northern Ireland were critical of the sale process.
"The requirements for submitting a bid set forth in the debtors' bid procedures appear to have been drafted to prevent museums like ours from participating," they said.
"The institutional limitations of our bid were made clear to the debtors well in advance of, and again after, the filing of the bid procedures with the bankruptcy court."
"We have raised significant funds to acquire the artefact collection and remain committed and willing to acquire the collection if given the opportunity."
NMMG and NMNI also pointed out that they had intended to keep the 5,500 artefacts together in public ownership and on public display.
The sale of the items is due to be confirmed in a court in Florida later in October.