James Cameron on the ‘catastrophic implosion’ of Titan submersible
The Titan submersible that imploded in the Atlantic Ocean may not have needed to pass the same safety tests to which similar vessels are subjected because it was operating in international waters where deep sea exploration is “unregulated”, an expert has claimed.
Following the tragic death of the five explorers on board the Titan, questions are now being asked about the submersible’s creator, OceanGate, and whether more stringent checks need to be put in place to prevent a similar disaster.
A former Royal Navy submarine captain suggested on Friday (June 23) the reasons for the implosion of the submersible could relate to prior defects in the pressure hull or an improper closing of the hatch used to seal the passengers in, further driving questions about why safety checks were not carried out more thoroughly.
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OceanGate’s Titan submersible was dropped in the Atlantic Ocean roughly 435 miles off the Canadian coast, outside any national jurisdiction on Sunday (June 18). It lost contact with its “mothership”, the Polar Prince, less than two hours after setting off.
After a frantic four-day search concluded on Thursday (June 22), the recovery teams operating in the area have now adopted a working theory that the vessel imploded on its descent to the Titan wreckage, which sits 3,800 metres below sea level, killing all five passengers on board.
Film director James Cameron, who has made dozens of dives to see the remains of the Titanic, told the BBC that he believed the remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) that entered the water on the final day of the search to scour the seafloor will have “found [the Titan] within hours, probably minutes”, suggesting that the submersible imploded at roughly the same time it lost contact with the Polar Prince.
It is believed the implosion may have occurred because the 17-bolt hatch used to seal the passengers in had failed, causing the hull to collapse under the “huge amounts of pressure” in the water, according to former Royal Navy submarine captain Ryan Ramsay. Alternatively, he suggested there had been a prior defect in the pressure hull itself, leading to the same result.
While it will be difficult to determine exactly what happened, the assumption that it did implode raises serious questions about how an unsafe vehicle was given the go-ahead to embark on this deep sea mission.
In UK waters, any vessel – a boat, submersible or ROV (remotely operated vehicle) – must pass “incredibly stringent safety checks” before it is allowed to enter the water, according to Dr Simon Boxall, a senior lecturer in oceanography at the University of Southampton, but there are no such rules for vessels operating in “unregulated” international waters.
“The problem is that this particular vessel, this particular submersible, didn’t come under anyone’s jurisdiction,” he told the BBC.
Concerningly, Dr Boxall’s comments are just one of several issues raised about OceanGate’s deep sea operations.
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Despite carrying out a number of successful missions in the two years prior to this week’s tragedy, OceanGate has been accused of “inadequately” considering the safety of its passengers on multiple occasions.
Interviews have also resurfaced in which Stockton Rush, the CEO of the company and the pilot who was on board the Titan when it imploded, intimated that the safety concerns of the wider deep sea exploration community stood in the way of his innovation.
David Lochridge, OceanGate’s former director of marine operations, argued in 2018 that the method the company devised for ensuring the soundness of the hull — relying on acoustic monitoring that could detect cracks and pops as the hull strained under pressure — was inadequate and could “subject passengers to potential extreme danger in an experimental submersible”.
OceanGate responded by saying Lochridge “is not an engineer and was not hired or asked to perform engineering services on the Titan”.
It also noted he was fired after refusing to accept assurances from the company’s lead engineer that the acoustic monitoring and testing protocol was, in fact, better suited to detect flaws than a method Lochridge proposed.
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