OceanGate Inc., the tour company responsible for the ill-fated mission to explore the Titanic wreckage, is now under scrutiny for its refusal to have its submersible craft independently certified and classed, despite numerous warnings about safety risks.
The recent incident, where the OceanGate submersible and all five occupants went missing, has highlighted the consequences of disregarding expert advice and sidestepping traditional certification processes.
Documents obtained from court filings and industry correspondence in 2018 shed light on the concerns raised by employees and external experts regarding the safety of the Titan submersible.
These warnings stressed the necessity for rigorous testing and assessments to avoid potentially catastrophic problems during expeditions.
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In a blog post titled “Why Isn’t Titan Classed?” published in 2019, OceanGate defended its decision to forgo traditional certification agencies such as the American Bureau of Shipping or DNV-GL.
The company claimed that seeking external certification would impede innovation and hinder its pursuit of pushing the boundaries of manned submersible design and operation.
During this period, OceanGate was preparing for its ambitious mission to offer passengers tours of the Titanic wreckage. Participants were charged a substantial fee of $US250,000 ($368,000) for what was promised to be a thrilling and unique travel experience aboard the 6.5-meter Titan submersible.
The disappearance of the Titan off the coast of Canada on Sunday prompted an urgent international search and rescue effort.
Authorities from the United States, Canada, and France are working tirelessly to locate the submersible and its occupants before their oxygen supply is depleted.
The search effort intensified when underwater banging noises were detected by a Canadian P-3 aircraft on Tuesday night. However, as of now, no evidence has been found, and it remains uncertain whether the noises indicate signs of life or originate from unrelated sources such as sea animals or other vehicles.
Captain Jamie Frederick of the Coast Guard acknowledged the challenging nature of this search operation and expressed sympathy for the families of the five people on board the Titan: British billionaire Hamish Harding, British-Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman, French maritime expert Paul Henri Nargeolet, and OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush.
Despite the ongoing search efforts, Frederick emphasized the importance of maintaining hope in search and rescue cases.
To aid in the search, three additional ships joined the operation, and privately owned vessels equipped with decompression chambers and underwater search devices were also preparing to contribute. OceanGate’s involvement is crucial due to its knowledge of the specific site where the submersible disappeared.
The exact cause of the submersible’s disappearance, which occurred approximately one hour and 45 minutes into its dive, remains unknown. Contact with the command ship, the Polar Prince, was lost during the incident.
The available documents paint a concerning picture of a company that disregarded expert advice and preferred its own methods and assessments.
A scathing letter from members of the Maritime Technology Society in March 2018 expressed apprehension about OceanGate’s experimental approach, warning of potential negative outcomes that could have serious consequences for the industry as a whole.
Court filings from the same year by the company’s former marine operations director, David Lochridge, further raised concerns. Lochridge claimed that he was terminated after raising critical safety issues regarding the experimental and untested design of the Titan submersible.
His warnings included the potential “extreme danger” posed to passengers due to inadequate testing for low water depths.
OceanGate has yet to respond to inquiries about its safety record, but the company’s website highlights the measures it claims to have implemented. These include an innovative carbon fiber hull, real-time hull health monitoring systems, and other procedures aimed at mitigating risks.
The tragic incident involving the OceanGate submersible serves as a stark reminder of the importance of adhering to rigorous safety protocols and seeking independent certification.
It underlines the need for comprehensive testing, assessments, and adherence to industry standards to ensure the safety of submersible operations.
As the search for the lost submersible continues, the incident has significant implications for the future of deep-sea exploration.
It underscores the vital role of certification agencies in establishing safety standards and the importance of collaboration between industry experts, researchers, and authorities to ensure the progress of deep-sea exploration while maintaining the utmost safety for crew members and passengers.
The lessons learned from this disaster should serve as a catalyst for reevaluating safety practices and fostering a culture of prioritizing safety without compromising innovation. By doing so, the future of submersible technology can be advanced, leading to more secure and enlightening deep-sea exploration endeavors.