Like everyone else, I was deeply saddened by the loss off life on the deep dive submersible “Titan” built by the company-Ocean Gate Explorations. Titan was operating as a paid, $250,00 per person “Tourist attraction”, offering trips down to the wreck of the Titanic. The Titanic sits on the Ocean floor almost 13,000 ft below the ocean surface where the pressure is 400lbs per square inch. The film producer and deep sea explorer, James Cameron, along with Robert Ballard, and Jean Louis Michael discovered the wreck on Sept.1,1985. Cameron has financed extremely well engineered submersibles and has visited the site over 30 times. He also wrote produced and directed the popular film “Titanic”. Mr. Cameron and other experienced deep dive submersible operators appealed to Ocean Gate Explorations to cease using “Titan” on the basis that its basic design was flawed and could not consistently hold up in deep dives as far down as the Titanic site.
All warnings were ignored. Titan’s elongated shape was pointed out as compromised. Standards in those depths is ball shaped -not elongated. A circular submersible can sustain the extreme pressure because the pressure is evenly distributed and displaced and therefore it can withstand the stress. They were warned Titan’s elongated tube shape would implode and that the new experimental materials used on its hull, carbon fiber and titanium, were untested for such abusive, consistent pressure and could be compromised. The warnings were ignored. The results were tragic. Five lives were lost, though no expense was spared by the United States, Canada, and Britain, to rescue them. Eventually a debris field proved that the Titan had indeed imploded.
As of this writing, debris from Titan has been brought to the surface and it has been reported that the remains of the Captain, Builder, a scientist and two passengers have been at least partially recovered. This all will take time to verify. Those who were lost in the tragedy were British Businessman, Hamish Harding, French diver and explorer, Paul-Henri Nargeolet, Billionaire Shahzada Dawood and his son Sulaiman , and the founder of Ocean Gate and Captain and builder of the Titan, Stockton Rush.
The loss of Titan strangely mirrors the original tragedy of the Titanic. The hull of the Titanic was made of a steel that would become brittle when cold, obviously not wise when sailing the North Atlantic amongst spring icebergs. Portions of the hull were assembled by oxy-fuel and electric arc welding methods which were in its infancy in its day. It was launched in May of 1911and set sail on April 10, 1912. An interesting fact is that though it was registered as a British White Star ship, Its actual owner was an American, J.P. Morgan, the famous financier from New York. The Captain on this voyage was the experienced Captain Edward Smith. This trip was to be his last before retirement. He had been warned of the dangers of large, dangerous, ice bergs off Greenland and New Found Land, but like Stockton Rush, Captain Smith ignored the warnings. It was full speed ahead. It is said that he wanted to log in a speed record on his last voyage. The rest is relegated to nautical history. It was the largest loss of life on an ocean liner before WW2.
It has been 43 years since Titanic’s wreck was finally located. As it sank in 1912 it split apart. The stern is completely smashed in, but the bow section, which is the more formable section, remains intact with much of its once elaborate interior in place. The Titanic left a debris field if 5 by 3 miles on the sea bed floor. This trail is what led to the hull’s discovery. Once the beginning of this trail of hundreds of thousands of items like shoes, boots, dinnerware, toilets, clothing, and ship fittings was found, it was followed up to the separated sections of the hull. Amongst these items and the surrounding area are the mortal remains of the passengers who died on that fateful night, appropriately titled in the first motion picture of this tragedy in the early 1950s as “A Night To Remember”.
Subsequent years have taken a great toll on the wreck. It has been accidently hit and damaged by submersibles innumerable times. They are hard to control in the currents and darkness surrounding the wreck. In addition, there is natural deterioration caused by iron consuming bacteria on the hull itself. There is no way to stop this. Eventually the outer shell will collapse and maybe only its inner ribs will remain, for at least for a while longer. In time, all that will be left is a giant rust stain on the sandy ocean floor and those items the sea and its creatures have not already consumed.
Thousands of artifacts have been removed from the site by RMS Titanic Inc. and are exhibited in the Luxor Las Vegas Hotel and Casino in “Viva Las Vegas” (Thanks Elvis!). They also have a touring exhibit which I saw in NYC that was very interesting. Up to a point I do not have a problem with removing a certain limited number of artifacts from a wreck for historical and educational purposes. However, there is an issue that must be addressed when it comes to Titanic and other wrecks such as the San Diego which lies off the coast of long Island and for years was a popular dive site. That issue is this. The wreck of the Titanic is a grave site. Over 1500 mortals drowned there. Scientists believe their bones still exist below the ocean bottoms sands. (The San Diego is also). The time has come to leave the Titanic and its victims to their eternal rest beneath the waves. No more passenger carrying submersible dives, no more pillaging of the holy remnants of the Titanic. There are enough photos, films, studies, and artifacts to fill every need whether scientific or historical. The time has come to let the Titanic, and any remains not recovered from Titan, to rest peacefully forever, as a memorial on the ocean floor.
“We commend these bodies to the deep, in hope of resurrection when the sea shall give up it’s dead and those who sleep beneath the waves shall be changed and made glorious”
(Annotated Maritime Prayer for committing the deceased to the sea.)
Mark C. Nuccio is a writer, artist, and historian, focused on the oceans, environment, traditions of our nautical heritage. He can be reached at “firstname.lastname@example.org”