The Titanic tragedy, recapitulated

I admit I’ve never been much interested in the story of the Titanic. I know of it, of course. I don’t think it’s possible to live in the developed world and not know about the Titanic to some degree. It has left a legacy in our culture, inspiring books, plays, and movies. Its sinking and the enormous loss of life caused safety changes that are still followed today, including such painfully obvious procedures as carrying enough lifeboats for all passengers on a ship, and periodic inspections to make sure the lifeboats will function if they are ever needed.

However, what always struck me about the Titanic was the enormous arrogance of the owners of the ship, the White Star Line, and their boast that the ship could never be sunk. I’m a Christian, but maybe the pagans of ancient times were onto something when they sacrificed to various sea gods for a favorable voyage. Maybe there is something to the idea that hubris invites disaster.

Now, more lives have been lost to the Titanic. A tiny submersible built by Oceangate and named the Titan (which seems ominous in itself) took five people down to the wreck and disappeared less than two hours after it was launched. Director James Cameron, a submersible designer himself, has gone on the record to ponder the eerie similarity between the fates of the Titanic and the Titan.

Image: The Titan. YouTube screen grab.

There were warnings about the safety of the Titan, just as the captain of the Titanic was warned about ice. In 1912, Captain Smith went full speed ahead. In 2018, Oceangate employee David Lochridge was fired after warning that the submersible could not withstand the depth where the Titanic rested, and Oceangate went full speed ahead.

No doubt there will be investigations and recriminations, as well as lawsuits against Oceangate, despite the fact that everyone on the Titan was fully aware of the terrible risk they were taking.

Not everyone was willing to take the trip. Josh Gates, star of Expedition: Unknown, has taken some truly insane risks in his travels around the world. He took a short trip on the Titan but refused the opportunity to dive into the wreck of the Titanic because of safety concerns about the sub. Deepwater salvage master Robert Mester refused to go down in the Titan at any depth because of a number of safety issues, including off-the-shelf electronics. Arthur Loibl did go down to the Titanic on the Titan submersible after a part of it had been repaired with zip ties.  After it was over, Loibl called the trip a suicide mission.

Clearly, the people who go on such adventures have a taste for endangering their lives. Now, the crew of the Titan, British businessman Hamish Harding, Pakistani investor Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman, French diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet, and OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, have died in a catastrophic implosion. Their bodies are probably unrecoverable, leaving them to remain with the Titanic. It is a sorrowful addition to a tragedy that took place so long ago.

Pandra Selivanov is the author of Future Slave, a story about a 21st-century black teenager who goes back in time and becomes a slave in the old South.

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