Movie director and submersible maker James Cameron said he wishes he had sounded the alarm earlier about the submersible Titan that imploded on an expedition to the Titanic wreckage, saying he had found the hull design risky.
Cameron became a deep-sea explorer in the 1990s while researching and making his Oscar-winning blockbuster Titanic. He owns Triton Submarines, which makes submersibles for research and tourism.
He is part of the small and close-knit submersible community, or Manned Underwater Vehicle (MUV) industry. When he heard, as many in the industry had shared, that OceanGate Inc was making a deep-sea submersible with a composite carbon fibre and titanium hull, Cameron said he was sceptical.
“I thought it was a horrible idea. I wish I’d spoken up, but I assumed somebody was smarter than me because I never experimented with that technology. Still, it just sounded bad on its face,” Cameron told Reuters in a Zoom interview.
The cause of the Titan’s implosion has not been determined.
Still, Cameron presumes the critics were correct in warning that a carbon fibre and titanium hull would enable delamination and microscopic water ingress, leading to progressive failure over time.
Other experts in the industry and a whistleblowing employee raised alarms in 2018, criticising OceanGate for opting against seeking certification and operating as an experimental vessel. OceanGate still needs to address queries about its decision to forgo certification from industry third parties such as the American Bureau of Shipping or the European company DNV.
The U.S. Coast Guard said the submersible appears to have imploded on its expedition to the wreckage of the Titanic on the bottom of the North Atlantic, but a conclusive investigation will take time.
A secret U.S. Navy acoustic detection system recorded “an anomaly consistent with an implosion or explosion in the general vicinity of where the Titan submersible was operating when communications were lost,” the Navy told the Wall Street Journal.
Cameron said his sources reported similar information, and he knew the submersible was lost from the start of the four-day ordeal, suspecting it imploded at the time the Titan’s mother ship lost communications with and tracking of the submersible one hour and 45 minutes into the mission.
OceanGate Safety Under Scrutiny
“We got a confirmation within an hour that there had been a loud bang at the same time that the sub comms were lost. A loud bang on the hydrophone. Loss of transponder. Loss of comms. I knew what happened. The sub imploded,” Cameron said. He added that he told colleagues in an email on Monday, “We’ve lost some friends,” and, “It’s on the bottom in pieces right now.”
The five who died mark the first deep-sea fatalities for the industry, Cameron said.
The industry standard is to make pressure hulls out of contiguous materials such as steel, titanium, ceramic or acrylic, which are better for conducting tests, Cameron said.
“We celebrate innovation, right? But you shouldn’t be using an experimental vehicle for paying passengers that aren’t themselves deep ocean engineers,” Cameron said.
Cameron said unheeded warnings preceded both the Titanic and the Titan tragedies. In the Titanic’s case, the captain sped across the Atlantic on a moonless night despite being told about icebergs.
At least one of the passengers aboard the OceanGate Titan tourist submersible that went missing deep in the ocean while trying to reach the wreckage of the Titanic is a member of the World Economic Forum, and David de Rothschild of the infamous Rothschild banking family has served on OceanGate’s board. As National File previously reported, the company has made headlines since the submersible went missing for its left-wing business practices, which include OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush’s refusal to hire militarily-experienced submarine experts because they are “white guys” despite being a “white guy” himself.
Cameron’s Alarm over OceanGate Safety Issues
OceanGate released a statement on Thursday—the fifth day of a massive search for the vessel over an area roughly the size of Connecticut—saying the five passengers on the Titan “have sadly been lost.” According to U.S. Coast Guard District Northeast, five significant pieces of the Titan had been discovered over two debris fields roughly 1,600 feet from the bow of the Titanic, including two parts of its pressure hull. U.S. Navy director of salvage operations and ocean engineering Paul Hankins said in a press conference the discovery confirmed the submersible had suffered a “catastrophic” event, likely from an implosion.
Five passengers—including Rush, as well as British aviation mogul Hamish Harding, longtime French explorer Paul-Henri Nargeolet, British-Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his 19-year-old son Sulemon—boarded the Titan Sunday morning. They lost contact with the submersible’s mothership less than two hours into their descent to the seafloor, prompting a massive search and rescue operation involving U.S., Canadian and French rescue teams. The passengers were believed to have 96 hours of oxygen when they first descended, giving rescuers until Thursday morning when it is thought that the supply would be drained. On Wednesday, a Canadian jet detected underwater noises in regular intervals in the search area, which were supposed to be the sounds of the passengers banging on the submersible’s single 21-inch window. However, the five passengers were never found.