The US Coast Guard said the Titan submersible appears to have suffered a ‘catastrophic implosion’ on a dive to the Titanic – Copyright GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File Nathan Howard
Many people have been highly critical of the loss of OceanGate’s Titan submersible. The sheer level of criticism has genuinely surprised some media commentators. This is particularly the case with a rather lengthy range of technical criticisms.
Why the huge fuss? The answer is in who’s doing the criticizing. The underwater community includes divers, submariners, underwater industry technicians, and researchers. The ever-expanding underwater vehicles market is also part of this mix. These people have skin in the game, and they’re not at all happy.
There are a lot of pretty uncompromising reasons for the fury. We’ll leave out unproven allegations, unhelpful media beat-ups, and innuendo. The core reasons are all about basic underwater safety.
Titan was already subject to some serious backroom technical criticism about safety before it entered the water. There are a lot of allegations, but the bottom line is that Titan did implode. It was operating very close to maximum depth according to its specifications. OceanGate is ultimately responsible for the failure of the submersible.
Titan was obviously at some point at a depth at which it simply couldn’t take the pressure. Nobody knows how or why. There might have been a system malfunction. That’s what’s got the experts so angry. The submersible shouldn’t have been anywhere near crush depth.
You see this in underwater movies all the time. The heroes get away with going below crush depth, or you don’t have a movie. It has been done in real life by navy submarines, very occasionally. It’s very much the exception to the rule, and a lot of subs didn’t survive.
In real life, your chances of survival at crush depth are pretty much zero. Crush depth is crush depth. This depth is calculated during the building of submersibles. The numbers tell the story. These numbers are always right.
… This is why nobody at all bought or is buying the “all right on the night” scenario with Titan. It’s too glaring and too dangerous a mistake to make.
That’s what’s generating the genuine fury of the criticism. The whole underwater sector is furious on many levels:
- The avoidable loss of life in the face of expert warnings.
- OceanGate’s responses to those warnings and allegedly blasé risk management.
- The effect on the industry’s all-important reputation of safety.
The allegations of recklessness are truly damning. Never mind “trial by media”. What’s needed are facts. An inquiry will be held, just like it was in the case of the Titanic itself. Future lives will depend on getting the facts straight.