OceanGate sub a "monstrosity" say industry experts

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Credit: Getty Images

One year on: everything we know about the tragic Titan submersible disaster

14 June 2024 • Written by Holly Margerrison

One year on from the fatal episode, BOAT unpacks everything we now know about the Titan disaster – from the timeline of events to the ongoing inquiry and warnings from experts. 

On 18 June 2023, the 6.7-metre submersible Titan imploded during a descent to the Titanic wreck at 3,800 metres below sea level. Operated by the American tourism and expeditions company OceanGate, Titan had five passengers on board who subsequently all died from the sub's violent inwards collapse.

Pakistani investor Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman, British businessman Hamish Harding, French diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet and OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush were the victims aboard the deep-water vessel when the incident occurred. 

Titan was expected to take around two and a half hours to reach the wreckage but soon lost contact with its mothership, Polar Prince, kickstarting a search operation for the missing submarine. The news grabbed the attention of media outlets across the globe and updates trickled out across the week, rocking the yachting and submersible industry.

The US Coast Guard convened a Marine Board of Investigation (MBI) into the loss of the Titan submersible and the investigation is ongoing. While many theories and studies have circulated as to the cause of the Titan submarine tragedy – including microscopic imperfections in the carbon fibre hull – no conclusion has been reached as of yet. 

Last week a purported transcript of communications between the sub and mothership that went viral last year was declared to be fake. “I’m confident it’s a false transcript,” said the chairman of the MBI, Captain Jason D. Neubauer. “It was made up.”

Titan disaster timeline:

Sunday 18 June 2023

08:00: The Titan submersible was launched from its mothership, Polar Prince (previously CCGS Sir Humphrey Gilbert).
09:45: Contact between the mothership and the submersible was lost. The U.S. Navy also noticed “an anomaly consistent with an implosion or explosion”.
15:00: Titan was scheduled to resurface but did not.
17:40: The U.S. Coast Guard was notified.

Monday 19 June

The search for Titan began.

Tuesday 20 June

Speculation began surrounding sonar detecting “banging” noises in the search area. These are later determined to be natural ocean sounds.

Thursday 22 June

Debris and remains of the sub were found around 500 metres from the bow of the Titanic. Citing this, the Coast Guard announced that the submersible had suffered a “catastrophic implosion.”

Sunday 25 June

The Coast Guard arranged a Marine Board of Investigation (MBI) to determine what happened to the Titan.

Wednesday 28 June 

Wreckage of the Titan was brought to St. John's, a city on Newfoundland island off Canada's Atlantic coast.

Sunday July 2

OceanGate announced it is ceasing operations.

Credit: U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters

Has there been an inquiry?

An investigation into the incident was launched by the US Coast Guard in June last year, which convened a Marine Board of Investigation (MBI) into the loss of the Titan submersible. The MBI examined "whether there is need for new laws or regulations, or amendment or repeal of existing laws or regulations, to prevent the recurrence of the casualty". 

The Coast Guard received debris and evidence recovered from the seafloor at the site of the Titan submersible (28 June 2023). Later in the year, marine safety engineers with the MBI launched a follow-up salvage mission which recovered additional presumed human remains that were carefully recovered from within Titan’s debris. The evidence was transported for analysis by US medical professionals (4 October 2023). 

A couple of months on, the US Coast Guard, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) and the French Marine Casualty Investigation Authority (BEAmer) conducted an evidence review of recovered Titan submersible debris in Newport, Rhode Island (8 November 2023).

Jason Neubauer, Coast Guard chair for the Titan Marine Board of Investigation (MBI), said:  "This effort underscores the importance of international and interagency coordination in marine casualty investigations. Our partnerships with NTSB, TSB and the French Marine Casualty Investigation Authority enabled a thorough examination of the international incident, promoting safety and transparency."

There is currently no date set for the public hearing that will address the tragedy. Until then, the MBI will continue its evidence analysis and witness interviews as part of the ongoing investigation.

Read More/What happened to the submersible industry after the Titan disaster?
Patrick Lahey, Triton Submarines
Credit: Reeve Jolliffe

Did Titan have warnings from experts?

Speaking on a special episode of the Big BOAT Interview alongside Rob McCallum, co-founder of EYOS Expeditions, Triton Submarines' co-founder Patrick Lahey shared his first public comments on the Titan submarine disaster. He said the disaster was an "experimental monstrosity that should never have carried people".

Lahey recalls pleading with his long-time friend and Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet, who was killed in the incident, not to dive with OceanGate. "I tried to do everything I could to discourage him from going out there. I know many people that knew him did the same thing."

McCallum also discusses his now well-publicised email exchange with OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, who also died on the dive, warning him that he was courting disaster by taking the uncertified Titan submersible to such extreme depths.

"He was completely dismissive," McCallum says. "The minute I found out it was going to be an unclassed vehicle, that's when the alarm bells rang. But perhaps the biggest red flag of all was when a senior member of the OceanGate team wrote a report laying out the 26 or 27 things wrong with the sub and suggested solutions to those problems and he was silenced." 

McCallum also relates the final time he met Rush, at a dinner, when, "I told him in no uncertain terms that he was doing the wrong thing".

Lahey also met Rush, and toured the OceanGate submersible while it was being tested in the Bahamas. "There were glaring defects. I made this list of things for them to address. But when I looked at it, I thought I didn't have to worry too much as there was no way it was ever going to see the light of day."

Rob McCallum, EYOS Expeditions
Credit: Reeve Jolliffe

Both Lahey and McCallum underline the point that to prevent similar incidents, all submersibles should be subject to third-party certification.

"It's essential," says Lahey. "If people insist on [accreditation] you can be assured that the craft that you're getting in has been reviewed independently by a group of professionals and according to a set of rules, it will be safe. If you look at the track record of certified craft, it is without peer – 50-plus years of absolute safety."

You can listen to the full interview with Lahey and McCallum on the BOAT Briefing podcast. A new episode is released every week, and you can listen via Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Don't forget to subscribe so you never miss an episode of the superyacht industry's biggest podcast.


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