OceanGate Expeditions released a promo video boasting about its “very safe” submersible two months before the vessel catastrophically imploded in the depths of the Atlantic while on a dive to the wreck of the Titanic.
The company’s CEO Stockton Rush, British billionaire explorer Hamish Harding, renowned French diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet and Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his 19-year-old son Suleman were killed in the ill-fated expedition after the sub lost contact with its mothership on 18 June.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, past passengers who previously went on the 12,000-foot dive aboard the Titan have shared several concerns they had with OceanGate’s safety measures. However, a promotional video posted 10 weeks before the implosion on OceanGate’s Youtube channel advertised the $250,000-a-ticket trip as extremely safe.
“OceanGate Expeditions offers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a specially trained crew member safely diving to the Titanic wreckage site,” the speaker is heard saying in a voiceover. “Get ready for what Jules Verne could only imagine ... a journey to the bottom of the sea.”
OceanGate workers, past passengers, Rush, Nargeolet and NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski are also featured in the video. The narrator goes on to say that fee-paying passengers, or “citizen scientists,” not only do “busywork” but are essential to the research.
Mr Rush also adds that his company partnered with the aerospace experts at the University of Washington, NASA, and Boeing on the design of their hull.
Although the Titan had a composite hull with inbuilt sensors that could withstand high pressures near the seafloor, any defect could result in a “near-instantaneous implosion” in less than 40 milliseconds, associate professor Eric Fusil at the University of Adelaide in Australia told the Associated Press last week.
“It’s very well engineered and very safe,” Mr Parazynski said on the promotional video. “And the team is very focused on safety first.”
Mr Nargeolet also lauded the Titan’s simplicity.
“For me, it is very well done because it is simple,” the late explorer said. “You don’t have [complex equipment] because you work with a screen and a keyboard and it’s very easy to do that. You are not only a passenger on their seat waiting for the time to [pass] ...you can be a member of the team.”
In 2018, 38 members of the Marine Technology Society’s Manned Underwater Vehicles committee wrote to Mr Rush expressing “unanimous concern” about the way Titan had been developed. According to The New York Times, the committee was alarmed that OceanGate had not subjected Titan to a standard risk assessment by Det Norske Veritas (DNV), an international maritime classification body that writes and maintains technical standards for undersea vehicles.
OceanGate defended its decision in a 2019 blog post, writing: “When OceanGate was founded the goal was to pursue the highest reasonable level of innovation in the design and operation of manned submersibles. By definition, innovation is outside of an already accepted system... Bringing an outside entity up to speed on every innovation before it is put into real-world testing is anathema to rapid innovation.”
Large pieces of debris from Titan were transported to St John’s harbour last week by the Horizon Arctic ship, where they were seen being unloaded by a crane. The Coast Guard also announced that medical professionals will formally analyse presumed human remains found on the debris.
Marine authorities from the US, the UK, Canada and France have opened several probes into what led to the Titan’s malfunction.
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