Oceangate denied audit
Submersible “Titan”: Experts sounded the alarm years ago
From Sarah Platz
6/21/2023, 3:58 p.m
The submersible “Titan” is in a devastating position, the five passengers are in mortal danger. The catastrophe confirms the fears of many experts. Already in 2018 you have serious doubts about the safety of the “Titanic” excursions. At Oceangate, however, they hit granite.
The US Coast Guard and private volunteers battle the clock in a remote corner of the Atlantic. The oxygen on board the submersible “Titan”, which was supposed to bring five passengers to the wreck of the “Titanic”, is coming to an end. It is now clear that there are many possible causes for this dramatic situation. Because while the company Oceangate advertised the innovative technology of the submersible “Titan”, there were increasing indications of significant risks. Gradually, more and more questions arise about the safety practices of the operator of deep-sea expeditions.
The first hints came from within their own ranks. David Lochridge, the former head of Oceangate naval operations, wrote a scathing document about the “Titan” back in 2018. He pointed out the potential dangers for passengers when the submersible reaches extreme depths, such as the excursion to the “Titanic” wreck at 3,800 meters. For example, the viewing window through which the passengers can see out of the boat is only certified for a depth of up to 1,300 meters. This emerges from court documents, as reported by the “Guardian”. Because after Lochridge voiced his criticism, he was fired. Oceangate also sued him for breach of official secrets.
But the warning from her own ex-employee should by no means be the only one to the US company. A little later, also in 2018, a letter reached the Oceangate managing director, Stockton Rush, who is also on board the missing “Titan”. This has now been published by the “New York Times”.. According to the report, the letter came from the Marine Technology Society, an industry group made up of industry representatives such as marine engineers and technologists. More than three dozen of those experts warned Oceangate of possible “catastrophic” problems with the “Titan” submersible.
“Oceangate Experimental Approach”
The association said it was “concerned about the development of Titan and the planned Titanic expeditions” and warned against “Oceangate’s current experimental approach”. Above all, the experts raise an important question even then: why does the company not have the “Titan” submersible classified? As part of the DNV classification process, the independent supervisory authority checks whether internationally recognized rules are being observed, and inspections are carried out during the construction and operational phases.
“While it involves additional time and expense,” the experts appealed, we unanimously agree that this third-party validation process is a critical part of the safety precautions that protect all occupants of submersibles.” In their letter, they demanded them that Oceangate should at least have its prototypes tested.
Managing Director Rush was initially unimpressed by the warning – the “Titan” started its test drives. However, about a year later, in 2019, a blog post titled “Why is the Titan unclassified?” appeared, in which the company took a stand. According to the Guardian, Oceangate explained in the post that it could take years for its titanium boat to be certified by the usual rating bodies because it is so innovative. “Having an outside facility update on any innovation before testing it in the real world is anathema to rapid innovation,” the company wrote.
Company advertised with security
Oceangate also insisted on innovative safety precautions on board the “Titan”, including “carbon fiber pressure vessels and a real-time monitoring system for the condition of the ship’s hull”. The company has no lack of specialist knowledge – Managing Director Rush has decades of experience in engineering. Former Titan passengers describe him as “highly professional”.
However, experts say that this expertise within the company’s own ranks cannot replace an independent audit. “It is much more responsible if you take a classification society on board and follow these technical specifications,” explains submarine captain Kirsten Jakobsen on ARD. She also signed the warning letter to Rush at the time. Whether you’re diving in the deep sea or driving on the freeway, Jakobsen says, “this should always be done with a device that’s actually approved for that and that’s safe to use.”
Especially since Oceangate even advertised the safety of the “Titan”. According to the advertising brochure, the “Titan” meets or exceeds the DNV-GL safety standards. However, it was obviously never planned to actually have the submersible rated by that certification company. This was described by the Marine Technology Society in 2018 as “at the very least misleading”. Similar criticism was voiced by former Oceangate employee Lochridge. “The paying passengers did not know about this experimental design and were not informed about it,” his lawyers said, according to the Guardian.
Journeys were almost never without problems
Were the passengers aware of the enormous risk when they boarded the “Titan”? Oceangate has been offering diving boat tours to the wreck of the Titanic since 2021, and the Titan is said to have undertaken ten such dives last year. While these previous trips were successful, they were almost never without problems. “Something always goes wrong,” reported Mike Reiss, who has already been on three tours, on the BBC. Each time, the boat lost communications – an extremely dangerous condition for a submersible that cannot be navigated without being connected to the surface. However, Oceangate continued the voyages.
However, according to Reiss, he had to sign a liability waiver before the dive. The word “death” is mentioned three times on the first page alone. According to CBS reporter David Pogue, who also rode the submersible last year, the statement also said the Titan is an experimental boat that “has not been approved or certified by any regulatory agency.” So there was an indication of the danger. However, it is not clear whether the passengers were aware of the urgency of this warning or even of the concerns of the experts.