- OceanGate boasted in 2020 that its submersible Titanic could accurately detect hull damage.
- The company said its warning system would alert the pilot to fuselage deficiencies well before an implosion.
- But in 2018, an executive said the system would only issue “milliseconds” before danger alerts.
OceanGate, the company that operated tours of the Titanic in their now-imploded submersible, touted in 2020 its ability to assess potential problems in the ship’s carbon-fiber hull with “incredible accuracy.”
In an April 2020 Instagram post, the company wrote that “acoustic emission sensors” attached to the submersible’s hull would detect and record changes in the carbon fiber during the vessel’s dive.
“This real-time monitoring system samples sound waves penetrating through the hulls multiple times per second, providing incredible accuracy and allowing us to assess the condition of the hull during the dive,” wrote OceanGate.
The company said it had conducted “extensive testing” and relied on 20 years of previous research showing that “increased acoustic activity always occurs long before the structure fails.”
If the hull is damaged “during transport or surface operations” or from repeated dives, the defects would be “detected by the advanced system and the dive terminated long before crew safety is compromised,” OceanGate wrote.
“Real-time hull health monitoring is an important safety feature of the Titan. We don’t dive when it’s not operational,” the company added.
But OceanGate’s “audible surveillance system” was criticized in 2018 by the company’s then director of naval operations, David Lochridge, a veteran submarine pilot, who said he was fired after raising “serious safety concerns” about the submarine .
Lochridge said he warned OceanGate that the system could only detect “often milliseconds before an implosion” if a component were to fail, according to a lawsuit he had filed against the company.
The system also cannot detect whether existing defects are already affecting the fuselage, he said in his complaint.
In response to Lochridge’s concerns, OceanGate said the submersible’s warning system would alert the pilot to a possible hull failure “with enough time to halt the descent and return to the surface safely,” according to The New Yorker.
After the launch, the sub’s pilot told another dive expert, Rob McCallum, that “there was no way they could have paid me to dive that thing,” according to the outlet.
It’s unclear if OceanGate adjusted the design of the submersible to address Lochridge’s concerns when the company posted that claim on Instagram in 2020. OceanGate did not immediately respond to a request for comment from insiders sent outside of regular business hours.
OceanGate crafted the hull of the submersible, dubbed Titan, from a combination of carbon fiber and titanium—an unorthodox mix for submersibles that are typically made entirely of solid metal.
While OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush believed the Titan was pushing the boundaries of innovation, it has also been documented as ignoring repeated requests from other security experts to reconsider its experimental approach.
According to The New Yorker, an internal report by OceanGate’s rival, Triton Submarines, said it was a red flag that Titan’s warning system even existed.
Rush “turned the fact” that the Titan needed a warning system “into something positive,” Jarl Stromer, Triton’s regulation and compliance manager, told the outlet.
“He makes it sound like the Cyclops is more advanced because it has that system, when the opposite is true: the submersible is so experimental and the safety factor is completely unknown that it requires a system to protect the pilot from an impending Collapse alerts.” Stromer told Triton’s CEO, according to The New Yorker. “Cyclops” was the original name given to the Titan and its predecessor when the submersible was tested.
The Titan disappeared on June 18th while diving 13,000 feet to the wreckage of the Titanic. All five people on board, including Rush, were pronounced dead by US authorities on June 23 after wreckage from the submersible was found on the seabed.
The debris field suggests the submersible suffered a “catastrophic loss of decompression chamber,” the US Coast Guard said, which would have killed anyone inside instantly. It’s still unclear whether the people on the sub knew the ship was about to implode, or whether they spotted any hull defects.
While Rush’s stance on Titan’s safety has drawn public criticism, he has also been defended by colleagues and close friends, who have said that while the CEO has high ambitions, he also has a strong commitment to safety.
He died alongside British billionaire adventurer Hamish Harding, wealthy French diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet, and British-Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman.