Like everybody else around the world, since Sunday I have been glued to the news media following the disappearance of the OceanGate submersible, Titan. I am sure that we all hoped beyond hope that what happened was simply a technical glitch in the communications system.

I firmly believed that long before the 96 hours of oxygen supply expired, the sub would be found and brought to the surface with the five occupants alive. However, over the four days, very little progress was being made and the tension rising was palpable.

During those four days, when there wasn’t any news other than the clock ticking, I found myself wondering about various things, such as why was there not some sort of battery-powered, location beacon, fixed to the hull of the Titan. Even if the sub imploded, such a device would have continued to send out a signal indicating its location. This would have made finding the sub, or parts to which the beacon was fixed, a lot less time-consuming.

I have read that certain things were not done due to cost. Yet, I am sure that whoever supplies aircraft manufacturers with location devices would have happily supplied a cost effective, ready-made unit off the shelf, just like the games console remote control which was used to operate the Titan.

The Japan Times ran an article in which it claimed that the owner of OceanGate, Stockton Rush, had previously said that safety was a “pure waste.” One presumes he meant that it was a waste of time and money, not to mention other resources such as testing the structural integrity of the carbon fiber hull.

Easyjet founder, and owner of a fleet of marine tankers, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, once famously said after a very expensive accident involving one of his tankers, “If you think safety is expensive, try having an accident.”

Another issue that has come to the fore is the fact that Titan was not put through any sort of regulatory or classification testing program. To add to this problem, it would appear that there wasn’t any sort of ongoing system of testing of the integrity of the hull, or systems attached to it.

One of the biggest concerns of any operator of vessels that are going to operate in a hostile environment has to be fitness of purpose. And that has to focus, in particular, on material fatigue. The aviation industry knows, only too well, due to previous tragic experiences, that this issue is one that has to be addressed as a matter of regular maintenance.

What is material fatigue? Quite simply it is when, over the course of many cycles of use, materials like metal or carbon fiber, can actually get tired and fail. To put it simply, if a piece of material is stressed, flexed, rotated, or bent, enough times, cracks will eventually begin to appear. And, if the problem is not dealt with, it will have a catastrophic effect on the operation of the vessel.

A cycle on an aircraft is one take-off, flight, and landing. With a vessel like the Titan submersible, a cycle is one launch and dive to the bottom of the ocean, and one return to the surface.

The cycle of stress loadings creates an accumulative effect. The first nine cycles can be performed without any apparent detrimental effects. But just because nothing untoward happened during those first nine cycles, does not mean that there will be no negative outcome on the tenth. This is why it is so important to maintain a system of regular testing. In this way, potential problems of material fatigue can be detected at an early stage and be dealt with in a timely manner to avoid any sort of catastrophe.

Sadly, it now appears that there was an implosive breach of the Titan carbon fiber hull, with all lives lost. Without a doubt, the fact that the Titan had made several previous dives and successfully returned to the surface inspired a degree of false confidence.

This is not unlike Captain Smith’s belief in the claim that the Titanic was unsinkable and forging full speed ahead into an iceberg. And how eerily a provoking of divine intervention must be the claim by Stockton Rush that once ensconced in the Titan, nobody on earth was as safe as those occupants.

Another sign of false confidence occurred when the crew of the OceanGate mother ship failed to sound an alert for a full eight hours after the Titan disappeared. It is claimed that the crew’s defense was that the Titan had once disappeared for two hours, before eventually returning to the surface unharmed. As it happens, an earlier alert would have made not the slightest difference as the Titan imploded almost as soon as it arrived, at the bottom of the Atlantic, one hour and forty five minutes into the dive.

In the end, it looks like Stockton Rush was something of an aquatic maverick adventurer who had no time for any sort of rules or regulatory bodies. This is all well and good when it is only your own life you are putting on the line, it is quite something else when you put other lives at risk. Those people deserved better, a lot better.

Finally, it would be a little remiss of me to not try to explain, in layman’s terms, how water pressure works on any vessel going deep into the ocean. A very good friend of mine once told me about how easy it is to lift a glass of water off a table. However, if that glass of water was two miles high, the weight of that much water would rivet the glass to the tabletop.

Now try to imagine the weight of a column of water two miles deep, and its effect on a submersible. I’m not smart enough to work out how many tons an ocean weighs at any depth, but for sure, it is enough to crush a vessel, like it was a sealed shut, empty, aluminum, Coca-Cola tin. Just try jumping on such an object, and see what happens.

It would also be somewhat remiss of me not to mention the terrible loss of life, in far greater numbers, on the boat that was shipping hundreds of Pakistani nationals just off the coast of Greece. In this case, it was simply a matter of traffickers overloading the vessel. I wonder how many international resources were sent speedily to that particular rescue.

If either the above two unrelated incidents at sea can be described as being of Titanic proportions, it is in fact, for the sheer number of deaths, some three hundred and still counting, the Greek tragedy of the sinking of an overloaded boat, full of poor people from Pakistan.

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