• Sunday, June 23, 2024
businessday logo


Titan excursion: Is the experience worth the risk?

The submersible: Fatherhood rights, bad omens and global inequalities

Over the years, the shipping industry has a fairly good safety record. It is true that safer shipping demands a safety culture, but maritime incidents are potentially catastrophic. The high rate of fatal injuries in shipping is caused by organizational accidents and maritime disasters.

Marine accidents can be expensive in terms of human lives and the cost incurred from claims due to damage and pollution to the marine environment. Marine accidents and unintended pollution at sea do not just occur but are products of several factors. Therefore, the sustenance of safety in the shipping industry requires human resources who are committed to following safety procedures.

Maritime safety is concerned with the protection of ships, safety of lives and the environment, and this has been achieved through the promulgation of international instruments. A ship is not automatically safe as people had thought. People at all levels of the organization have to create safety through practice at all times. The priorities and preferences expressed by people through safety practice may be a logical reproduction of what the organization finds important.

Pursuing knowledge and innovation is not without risks. It’s good for an inventor to be bold and confident but safe test practices are much more important

One factor dominates the majority of maritime accidents in history, and that is human error. Human error and marine safety reports of the United States Coast Guard (USGC) reveals that between 75-96 percent of marine casualties are caused in part by some form of human error. This conclusion on marine casualties has since remained incontrovertible.

Maritime archives shows that Royal Majesty Ship (RMS) Titanic, a British Passenger Liner, operated by the White Star Line departed Southampton on April 10, 1912. During her maiden voyage, the Liner sank on April 15, 1912, after striking an ice berg in the North Atlantic Ocean.

This infamous maritime incident remains the deadliest sinking of an ocean liner. Since then the disaster drew public attention, and provided foundational materials for a 1997 disaster genre film written, produced and co-edited by James Cameron titled Titanic. Since Titanic sank, she has been fascinating the society while drawing tourists to the wreckage.

Recently, an incident occurred at sea that exhibits the importance and hazard of the maritime environment. An OceanGate submersible submerged and imploded. A very unfortunate incident. The submersible catastrophically exploded while on a voyage to see the Titanic wreckage.

We must appreciate the team of coastguard officers from the USA and Canada who were involved in the Search and Rescue (SAR) operation in search of the OceanGate’s “Titan” Submersible for their professionalism in searching for the imploded vessel off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.

Before the incident which occurred about mid June 2023, we were informed that Titan had made a couple of cancelled expeditions in the past to the Titanic wreckage resulting in court filings. But an unconfirmed source shows that OceanGate has completed a few successful dives to the Titanic wreckage in 2021 and 2022. And was in the process of “commercializing” undersea tourism to depths of 12500 feet (3810 meters), according to reports.

At the stated depth, pressures are 340 times that on the oceans surface. This, according to oceanographers, is about 5,500 pounds per square inch (about 3000 tonnes per square meters). In the past, reports show that such excursions have been made with experimental vehicles made of titanium. But OceanGate is the first producer of a deep ocean submersible using a combination of titanium and carbon fibre materials.

Carbon fibre, according to metallurgists, is typically used in jet aircraft capable of flying at heights of 35000 feet (10,668 meters) or higher across the vast oceans of the world. But the dynamic forces on a jet aircraft are quite different at altitude than the extreme pressures of the deep ocean. Obviously, something went wrong and five souls were lost tragically.

As tragic as the incident is, one of the silver lining is the response of a coalition of seagoing services to conduct a SAR operations. The pressure was on the SAR team to get forces on scene as fast as possible, locate Titan, and bring her up prior to the 96 hours deadline. This is hardly a simple task.

When stricken with a casualty that puts a boat on the bottom with no hope of surfacing, one would ask: Is the experience of using the Titan submersible on excursions to and from the Titanic worth the risk? The whole world now knows that the implosion reported by the sonobuoys of a P-3 helicopter on Sunday June 18, 2023, was indeed a breakup of the Titan Submersible after some catastrophic failure of its pressure hall.

Read also: Here are 3 businessmen who died tracking Titanic

Undoubtedly, there would be one or more investigations by the relevant authorities both of Canada and the United States of America. The series of investigations will most likely take about a year or more. Certainly, the marine investigators will leave no stone unturned and from their reports will come a series of recommendations on how to prevent future occurrences, and perhaps impact requirements in the design and construction of future submersibles.

Are there lessons learnt from this maritime incident. Certainly, there are lessons learnt. Pursuing knowledge and innovation is not without risks. It’s good for an inventor to be bold and confident but safe test practices are much more important.

In order to mitigate risks, maritime agencies saddled with the safety administration of vessels should ensure that ship operators adhere to proper operating procedures and decision-making processes. This would ensure safety of ships, crew and the maritime environment.

Lastly, vessel operators should exercise due diligence so as not to be remembered for the safety rules that they ignored in harbour and at sea. The consequences are very dire if maritime safety regulations and standards are compromised. Thank you.