May 25, 2024

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The Titanic's submarine was made cheap - and this could be its fate

The Titanic’s submarine was made cheap – and this could be its fate

The OceanGate incident comes to a climax like Titanic itself: slow, painful, and tragic. On Thursday afternoon, OceanGate and the US Coast Guard confirmed that debris found around the wreck of the Titanic appears to be from the company’s Titan submarine “consistent with a catastrophic loss of an airlock.” This means that the five crew members on Titan are presumed dead.

Details of the trip and about the submarine haven’t come out yet – and it doesn’t look good.

The ship – which made its maiden voyage in 2021 – is largely experimental. It is unlicensed, which means it has not been checked by a regulatory body for safety. It also lacks basic emergency features such as a position beacon to transmit its coordinates in the event of disaster, or even a navigation system that other deep-sea submarines have. Instead, OceanGate relied on a control room on an expedition ship on the surface to help maneuver Titan around the ocean.

As efforts continue to be made to find out what happened to Titan, it’s clear that this story will cause a reckoning in the private submarine industry – which will hopefully lead to stricter safety standards and better built ships to prevent potential tragedies from re-occurring.

As of now, we are beginning to learn that what made OceanGate cruises so cost effective and easy to implement were also factors that increased risks and risks for passengers.

“These types of vehicles are being built and deployed by highly specialized, highly knowledgeable people,” David Strachan, a senior analyst with naval warfare firm Strikepod Systems, told The Daily Beast. “You’re talking about the complexities of a hostile environment like the deep sea.”

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It seems as though OceanGate may have tried to avoid many of these complications in favor of saving money. The first – and perhaps the most obvious – example comes from the way the Titan was designed. Deep-sea submersibles such as the DSV Alvin that discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1986 are usually made of rigid metal hulls such as steel or titanium. However, OceanGate used a combination of carbon fiber and titanium.

Although lightweight and strong, subs are not traditionally made of carbon fiber because it is simply not as strong as metal. Despite this, the company made extensive use of the material for Titan and made use of it as a marketing point on its website. “Titan is the only carbon fiber submarine in the world capable of diving for five people up to 4,000 meters.” site reads.

Strachan explained that both manned and remote-controlled submarines typically use a material called syntactic foam, which is known for being incredibly durable yet resilient in the extreme pressures of the deep sea. However, OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush Tell Vehicle world In 2017, he chose instead to use carbon fiber because it was more cost effective.

OceanGate’s decision to rely on a combination of carbon fiber and titanium for its vessel has raised some eyebrows and concerns – particularly from the company’s director of marine operations, David Lochridge.

Lochridge was fired and sued by the company after he raised several safety issues regarding the Titan’s design and hull in particular. Considering the flaws prevailing in the previous test [one-third] The scale model, and the defects visible in the carbon end samples of Titan, Lockridge once again emphasized the potential danger of Titan passengers as the submarine reached extreme depths.”

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Whether or not this design choice ultimately doomed Titan remains unclear. It certainly didn’t help, however, that the company seemed to forgo safety and quality assessments by Det Norske Veritas (DNV), an independent organization that certifies and inspects marine vessels and is considered an industry standard.

This led the Marine Technology Association, a community of marine industry professionals, to issue a letter to OceanGate warning of consequences ranging “from minor to catastrophic” if the company persists with its “experimental” approach to submarine building. “We recommend at least establishing a prototype test program that is reviewed and witnessed by DNV-GL,” the letter read.

Catastrophic failure at the depths at which Titan was traveling meant the ship would have faced an “instant implosion,” OceanGate co-founder Guillermo Söhnlein said the BBC.

Now, we have an international team coming together to search for crew members and passengers who appear to be victims of an experimental deep sea vessel that likely flouted industry and construction safety standards to save money and time. While he can’t say for sure how much this will ultimately cost entities like the US and Canadian Coast Guards, Strachan said it’s likely to be a bit steep.

“In a commercial context, operating an offshore vessel to drill for oil and gas, for example, can cost tens of thousands of dollars a day,” Strachan said. “And that’s in commercial context. It can be very expensive to run a cruise ship for a long time, so I imagine the bill is growing exponentially.”

There’s something else, Strachan adds humans cost furthermore. As the world has been reminded since the disappearance of Titan, the sea is a very dangerous place. Search and rescue teams must now navigate an extremely cold and hostile environment, risking their lives in the process just to find the submarine.

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“They put their lives at risk, because working at sea is incredibly complex and dangerous,” Strachan said. “People are putting their lives on the line to help save the lives of others.”

With the news that the wreckage of Titan has been discovered, the world may not have to keep bearing the human cost for much longer. Experts told The Daily Beast they believe the ship suffered a “catastrophic hull failure” thousands of feet from landing. At such pressures, Titan would have simply imploded.

This tragedy will undoubtedly mark a turning point for this type of billionaire tourism and for deep sea exploration as a whole. Industry must and will face a reckoning with how these submarines are built in the future — and who, exactly, will use them. Because when the cost of these technologies exceeds dollars and cents, they become too prohibitive to ignore.