Missing Titanic submarine plagued by long history of deadly safety issues

Search and rescue teams are racing against time as they attempt to locate a missing submersible and its five-person crew that was set to explore the wreckage of the Titanic nearly 13,000ft below the North Atlantic on 18 June. The US Coast Guard said the 22-foot-long ocean-going vessel, nicknamed the Titan, only has a few days of oxygen.

The craft is owned and operated by OceanGate, a private submersible company that offers chartered trips to the wreck of the Titanic to customers for $250,000 per seat. He set out on his journey on Sunday morning, but lost contact with his research vessel, the Polar Prince, about 1 hour and 45 minutes into his journey.

Things look bleak. Even under the best of conditions, voyages over and under the North Atlantic face the kinds of dangers that the Titanic itself faced, including freezing water temperatures, chaotic weather, and crashing waves and currents. . It is not helped that the technology used in the construction of the Titan is experimental, unregulated, risky and potentially deadly. This not only makes diving operations like the one undertaken by the Titan difficult, but also dangerously complicates search and rescue operations.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure we can locate and rescue those on board,” U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger told a press briefing. he later said hello america that the international search and rescue team has so far covered an area “the size of Connecticut”.

Walt ‘Butch’ Hendrick, a former Green Beret rescue training manager, told The Daily Beast that if the submarine becomes entangled in the wreckage of the Titanic or something else, a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) could theoretically cut through four inches of steel to cut it, but he needs to be equipped with the right tools to be able to do so.

And things would look even gloomier if the sub just wasn’t able to surface on its own. “These ROVs aren’t able to bring it back if it’s a solid deadweight, and we don’t have a 13,000 foot cable to bring it to the surface,” Hendrick said.

Indeed, the problems facing the Titan, its crew, and its salvage operation can likely be attributed to the submersible’s design and potentially deadly lack of safety features.

Sea (un)worthy

When the Titanic sank in 1914, it left a debris field of ship parts about a mile long. It was from these breadcrumbs that oceanographer and retired naval officer Robert Ballard was finally able to discover the wreckage of the ill-fated steamship in 1985, more than 73 years after it sank.

To reach it, Ballard and two crew members boarded a US Navy-owned deep-sea research submersible known as DSV. Alvin– allowing them to slowly sink over 2 miles below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean to gaze upon the wreckage of the Titanic for the very first time.

At this depth, the pressure is immense – roughly the equivalent of a solid lead building the size of the Empire State Building pressing down on any vessel below. Thus, the hull of any submersible must be strong enough to support the enormous weight of the water above it.

The Titan is made of a combination of carbon fiber and titanium, according to the OceanGate website. At approximately 22 feet long and 9 feet high, it is designed to carry a pilot and four other passengers to levels as deep as 13,123 feet at a speed of 3.5 mph. The submersible is about as big as a van inside. It offers enough room for five people to sit in a cramped hull, with a small porthole looking out.

There is a panel of screens so the crew can see a small part of their surroundings, which is a nice distraction from the tiny toilets for customers at the front of the submarine. The panel allows the crew to communicate with the research vessel’s control room via an acoustic link. This allows the ship to send text messages back and forth with the Titan. However, this is limited to telemetry data.

In a 2022 CBS Sunday morning article about OceanGate and its deputy chief executive, company CEO Stockton Rush apparently bragged about the “off-the-shelf components” that go on the sub, including a handful he said he had obtained from Camping World.

However, the item that caught the internet’s attention the most was a retrofitted third-party XBox 360 controller that the CEO says operates the entire submersible. “We handle it all with this game controller,” Rush said. SCS.

“It looks like this submersible has elements of MacGyver-y, jerry-riggedness,” David Pogue, a SCS reporter, said on the segment. “I mean you put construction pipes as ballast.”

Safety not ensured

After news of the crew’s disappearance, Pogue caught on Twitter to further highlight some of the puzzling facets of the overall operation of the submersible and OceanGate, including the fact that the craft – at least the one it went on – does not have any type of emergency locator transmitter (ELT ). These devices are usually carried on board planes and ships in emergencies and emit distinct signals that allow rescuers to locate lost and injured victims.

This is such a fundamental and essential part of almost every sea voyage that it challenges the decision-making ability of Rush and the company as a whole. Rush will later say disdainfully SCS that there was a limit to the number of security measures these ships should have.

“You know, there’s a limit,” he told the broadcaster. “At some point, security is just a waste. I mean, if you don’t just want to be safe, don’t get out of bed. Don’t get in your car. Do nothing. At some point, you’re going to take risks and it’s really all about risk-reward. I think I can do it just as safely by breaking the rules.

This isn’t the only damning revelation about the sub’s on-board technologies to come to light recently. In 2018, executives from other submersible vehicle companies signed a letter to Rush warning that the company’s “current” “experimental” approach to building its ships like the Titan could lead to “minor to catastrophic” issues. according The New York Times.

Legal documents obtained by The New Republic further revealed that an OceanGate employee had complained about security issues regarding the Titan. The employee, David Lochride, was a submersible pilot and director of marine operations for the company, and was “responsible for the safety of all crew and customers”, according to a press release.

However, after expressing concerns and refusing to approve the Titan’s crewed test voyages, Lochridge was fired and sued by the company for alleged disclosure of confidential information. “Given the widespread flaws in the previously tested ⅓ scale model and the visible flaws in the carbon end samples of the Titan, Lochridge again emphasized the potential danger to Titan’s passengers as the submersible reached extreme depths,” the countersuit reads. The two parties would later settle the dispute.

Given all of these issues, one wonders how a submersible like the Titan was given the green light to operate in the first place. Unfortunately, it seems that OceanGate benefited from a regulatory vacuum: there was no regulation to begin with. Since the Titanic is in international waters, there are no laws that companies like OceanGate must follow and adhere to when it comes to their submersibles.

This is how we get an “experimental submersible vessel that has not been approved or certified by any regulatory body and could result in physical injury, disability, emotional trauma, or death” as the waiver form OceanGate that Pogue signed on SCS profile says.

“This unit never met international safety standards because it was both innovative and experimental,” said Hendrick, the former head of Green Berets rescue training. “He doesn’t have a beacon to send a signal to tell our Coast Guard where he is. The thing is supposed to have its own ability to surface, but if its electrical system is shorted out due to salt water entering it, that system will no longer work. We know from other people who have been interviewed that there are people who have been to this unit and the dive didn’t last an hour, they came back due to mechanical issues.

So now we have something that looks amazingly like the maiden – and final – voyage of the Titanic. It was also an experimental ship considered at the time as a technological and technical marvel. It is the one that has allowed some of the richest and most esteemed people in the world to buy a ticket and embark on a great adventure on the Atlantic Ocean. However, it also lacked basic safety tools which ultimately condemned it and 1,500 passengers to a cold, watery death.

It’s a dark and sobering lesson, but worth remembering: history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.

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