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Harrowing Parallels Between The Titanic and the Titan Disasters

The Titanic and the Titan are two names that evoke tragedy, horror and fascination. Both were state-of-the-art vessels that met their doom in the depths of the North Atlantic Ocean, taking hundreds of lives with them. While, the Titanic was a full-fledged ship that sank in 1912, the Titan was an experimental submersible that met the same fate in 2023. Both disasters sparked public outrage and led to changes in maritime regulations and safety standards. Furthermore, they revealed dreadful details about human ambition, technology and failure.

The Titanic and the Titan Claimed to be Unsinkable

The Titanic was a British luxury passenger liner that was on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City, US. It was the second of three Olympic-class ocean liners built by White Star Line, and was the largest ship in the world at the time. It had about 2,200 passengers and crew on board, including some of the wealthiest and most prominent people of the era. The Titanic was widely regarded as unsinkable, due to its advanced design features such as watertight compartments and a double bottom.

The Titan was a deep-sea submersible carrying five people to observe the wreckage of the Titanic. It was owned by OceanGate Expeditions, a company that offered exclusive tours to explore the Titanic site. The Titan was reportedly one of the most advanced submersibles ever built, capable of diving to depths of 13,000 feet and withstanding immense pressure. It had a carbon fiber hull, titanium components and sophisticated navigation systems. The Titan’s passengers included OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, a British billionaire and adventurer Hamish Harding, a French dive expert and Titanic historian Paul-Henri Nargeolet, and prominent Pakistani businessmen Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman.

Fatal Encounter

Both the Titanic and the Titan faced unexpected dangers during their descent to the ocean floor. The Titanic struck an iceberg at around 11:40 PM on April 14, 1912, while traveling at a speed of roughly 22 knots (41 km/h). The collision caused a glancing blow that buckled the starboard side of the ship and opened six of its sixteen compartments to the sea. The Titanic had been designed to stay afloat with up to four of its forward compartments flooded, but the damage was too extensive and fatal. The ship began to sink slowly, with its bow dipping lower and lower into the water.

The Titan lost contact with its mother ship at around 9:45 AM on June 18, 2023, while descending to the Titanic wreckage site. The submersible was about 1 hour and 45 minutes into its roughly 2-hour descent when it stopped communicating. The cause of the communication loss remained unknown, but experts suspected that something went wrong with the submersible’s power or life support systems. The Titan suffered a catastrophic implosion shortly after losing contact, according to a sound detected by the US Navy. The implosion was caused by the immense pressure at that depth, which crushed the submersible’s hull like an aluminum can.

Casualties

Both disasters resulted in high casualties and low survival rates among those on board. The Titanic sank in less than 3 hours after hitting the iceberg. More than 1,500 people died in the disaster, making it one of the deadliest peacetime shipwrecks in history. Only about 700 people survived, mostly women and children who were given priority in boarding the lifeboats. The Titanic had only 20 lifeboats on board, enough for about half of its capacity. Many lifeboats were launched before they were completely full, due to poor management of the evacuation and panic among the passengers and crew.

The Titan imploded in less than a second after losing contact with its mother ship, killing all five people on board instantly. There were no survivors or rescue attempts possible for the submersible’s passengers. The Titan had no lifeboats or escape pods on board, as it was designed to be self-contained and safe for deep-sea exploration. The submersible’s debris was found scattered over a large area near the bow of the sunken Titanic.

Humans Learn the Hard Way

The sinking of the Titanic exposed the flaws in the existing practices and policies regarding ship design, navigation, communication and evacuation. The disaster prompted several inquiries and investigations, which recommended sweeping changes to improve maritime safety. In 1914, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) was established, which still governs maritime safety today. Some of the changes introduced by SOLAS included requiring sufficient lifeboats for all passengers and crew, establishing a 24-hour radio watch on all ships, and creating an international ice patrol to monitor icebergs in the North Atlantic.

The Titan’s crush raised questions about the risks and ethics of deep-sea tourism and exploration. The disaster revealed the lack of oversight and regulation for submersible operations, as well as the potential environmental and cultural impacts of visiting Titanic’s wreckage. The disaster also highlighted the need for better technology and training for submersible crews and passengers, as well as more stringent safety protocols and contingency plans.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) vowed to adopt a new code by 2024 for submersible safety, which set minimum standards for design, construction, equipment, operation and maintenance. The code will require submersibles to have emergency escape systems, such as life rafts or capsules, that could be deployed in case of an emergency.

James Cameroon Notices Disturbing Pattern

Hollywood director and Titanic researcher James Cameron also discussed similarities between the two incidents. He was particularly adamant that the overconfidence was the major factor that led to both disasters. He mentioned how the captain of the Titanic ignored warnings about ice ahead and steamed full speed into an ice field, resulting in many deaths. Similarly, he believed that the decision to construct the Titan with carbon fiber, which he considers “fundamentally flawed”, was a display of overconfidence.

Cameron, a submersible designer himself, expressed surprise at how the modern-day tragedy unfolded, given the high safety standards and improvements in submersible design. He highlighted that diving occurs worldwide without incidents and praised the Russian submersibles he used to visit the Titanic. Chris Goldfinger, a marine geologist, supported Cameron’s view and described the Titan as an “underprepared vehicle”. Goldfinger explains that the Titan lacked backup systems and another submersible in the area, unlike other vessels.

According to reports, the deep-diving community had previously raised concerns about the safety measures of the Titan. The company received written letters expressing that the submersible was too experimental to carry passengers and needed certification. The maker of the Titan also faced a lawsuit in 2018, where a former employee alleged concerns about quality control and testing of potential flaws in the experimental submersible. The dispute was settled out of court.

The Titanic and the Titan were tragic events that claimed many lives and shocked the entire world. They were mostly caused by human error and hubris, but unforeseen circumstances also played a part. They became examples of human ambition and curiosity, and exposed human vulnerability and fragility. The Titanic and the Titan are two names that will forever linger in the collective imagination of the world.

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