Receive free Maritime accidents and safety updates
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest Maritime accidents and safety news every morning.
A submersible that was on a diving expedition to the wreckage of the RMS Titanic suffered a “catastrophic implosion”, the US Coast Guard has said, killing all five passengers on board.
An international search effort on Thursday morning located debris near to the site of the Titanic on the ocean floor. Authorities later confirmed the debris contained the remains of the submersible, known as Titan.
“This is an incredibly unforgiving environment down there on the sea floor and the debris is consistent with a catastrophic implosion of the vessel,” Rear Admiral John Mauger of the US Coast Guard said at a press briefing.
The discovery of the remains of Titan puts an end to a frantic four-day search to locate the craft after it lost contact with its surface vessel, the Polar Prince, on Sunday morning.
The US Navy had detected a possible implosion when the Titan lost contact on Sunday in the vicinity of where it was operating, a senior navy official said. The navy shared the information with the search team led by the US Coast Guard, but it was not considered definitive, so the search continued.
“This information was considered with the compilation of additional acoustic data provided by other partners and the decision was made to continue our mission as a search and rescue and make every effort to save the lives on board,” the official said. The detection was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The operator of the craft, OceanGate, confirmed the five people on board — its chief executive Stockton Rush, Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood, British businessman Hamish Harding and Paul-Henri Nargeolet, a French explorer — were presumed dead.
“We now believe [they] . . . have sadly been lost,” the company said in a statement. “These men were true explorers who shared a distinct spirit of adventure, and a deep passion for exploring and protecting the world’s oceans.”
A remote operated vehicle launched from the ship Horizon Arctic as part of the search operation located the nose cone of the Titan on Thursday morning, lying about 1,600 feet from the bow of the Titanic.
The ROV later found a large debris field containing the front end of the vessel’s pressure hull. The rear end of the hull was subsequently discovered in another smaller debris field.
Search and rescue crews had been in a race against time to track down Titan within 96 hours of its launch — the period of time the crew would still have had oxygen had the vessel remained intact.
There was a glimmer of hope for the search effort on Wednesday after underwater noises were detected by patrol planes, prompting rescuers to refocus their search efforts. But the Coast Guard said on Thursday that there did not appear to be a connection between the location of the debris and the sounds.
Mauger said that the tragedy probably occurred before the rescue effort got under way because sonar monitoring of the area had not detected any signs of an implosion during the search.
“We know that as we’ve been prosecuting this search over the course of the last 72 hours and beyond that we have had sonar buoys in the water nearly continuously and have not detected any catastrophic events when those sonar buoys have been in the water,” Mauger said on Thursday.
The location of the debris suggested there had not been a collision with the wreckage of the liner, according to Carl Hartsfield of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who assisted with the search.
The search operation will continue to map out debris on the seabed using ROVs over the coming days in a bid to determine the chronology of events. An investigation into the tragedy is also expected to be announced.
“This was an incredibly complex case and we are still working to develop the detail of the timeline involved with this casualty and response,” Mauger said.
“We’re going to continue to investigate the site of the debris field and I know there is a lot of questions about how why and when did this happen,” he added. “Those are questions that we will collect as much information as we can on now while the governments are meeting and discussing what an investigation of this nature of a casualty might look like.”