UPDATED: 3 Ships Join in Search for Missing Submersible Titan, 2018 Lawsuit Alleged Flaws in Craft’s Design

June 21, 2023 12:14 PM
Titan submersible on its launch sled. OceanGate Image

This post has been updated with additional information and comments from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Three ships arrived at St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada, Wednesday morning to assist in search and rescue efforts for a submersible that went missing Sunday.

Despite a number of ships and aircraft, rescue efforts have been so far unsuccessful to find Titan, the OceanGate submersible carrying five people, including OceanGate’s CEO Stockton Rush. The submersible was attempting to go survey the wreck of RMS Titanic when it stopped communicating.

The search continues to be a rescue effort despite concerns about the lack of provisions and breathable air in the submersible, Capt. Jamie Frederick announced at a Wednesday Coast Guard press conference in Boston

“Oh, this is a search and rescue mission, 100 percent,” he said. “We are smack dab in the middle of search and rescue, and we’ll continue to put every available asset that we have in an effort to find the Titan in the crew members.”

The three ships – John Cabot, Skandi Vinland and Atlantic Merlin – were on scene as of Wednesday, the Coast Guard announced via Twitter. An unidentified French ship with additional remotely operated vehicle capability is on it way to assist with rescue efforts, Frederick said.

There are currently five surface ships searching for the Titan, but that number is expected to grow to 10, Frederick said. There are also two ROV units searching with additional ones expected to come to St. Johns by Thursday morning.

A number of other ships are also making their way to the site, according to tweets from Marine Traffic.

John Cabot has side-scanning sonar abilities, the Coast Guard tweeted.

“There’s an enormous complexity associated with this case, due to location being so offshore so far offshore and the coordination between multiple agencies and nations,” Frederick said. “We greatly appreciate the outpouring of support and offers to provide additional equipment.”

Early Wednesday morning, a Canadian aircraft detected underwater noises, leading to the use of remotely operated vehicles to find the source of the noise. However, the efforts did not find the noise’s origin, the Coast Guard said.

Navy subject experts are analyzing the noises, Frederick said.

“I can’t tell you what the noises are,” he said. “But what I can tell you is,and I think this is the most important point, we’re searching where the noises are. And that’s all we can do at this point.”

The sounds could be unrelated to the Titan, said Carl Hartsfield, director and senior program manager for the Oceanographic Systems Laboratory at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Naval experts are analyzing them to determine if they were made by another manmade object, Hartsfield said during the press conference.

Rescue efforts are being led by the First Coast Guard District, headquartered in Boston, in coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, Canadian Coast Guard and Canadian Armed Forces.

The Navy, working with U.S. Transportation Command, sent subject experts and the Flyaway Deep Ocean Salvage System to assist. The Navy has previously used the salvage system in recovery efforts, including an F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter in the South China Sea.

There are three possible scenarios for what happened to the submersible, USNI News previously reported. It could be floating on the surface of the Atlantic, it could be stuck at the bottom of the ocean or it could have experienced a catastrophic failure, which would have likely resulted in the death of all five passengers. If the submersible is bobbing on the surface or stuck on the bottom, one of the biggest concerns is how much breathable air is left.

At a 1 p.m. conference Tuesday, Coast Guard Capt. Jamie Frederick said that there was an estimated 40 hours of air left, although it depends on a number of factors, including breathing rate.

One of the features of the OceanGate submersible is that the passengers were bolted inside, meaning that even if they were at the surface, they cannot escape, according to a report from CBS Sunday Morning.

It is not the first time an OceanGate submersible had issues on its way to the Titanic. CBS reporter David Pouge tweeted that during a CBS visit to the submersible, Titan was lost on the sea floor and could not find the Titanic wreck. Pouge clarified Wednesday that the submersible was always in contact with its corresponding surface ship during that time.

OceanGate previously received a number of warnings about its safety features. A former employee, who was sued by the company in 2018 and then counter-sued, wrote in his lawsuit that he had warned the company about a lack of testing of Titan’s hull.

David Lochridge was fired by OceanGate in 2018, according to the lawsuits from OceanGate and Lochridge. OceanGate’s lawsuit alleged that Lochridge breached his contract by revealing confidential information about the company to two other people.

According to both lawsuits, Lochridge was fired after a meeting over his concerns about the Titan. One of Lochridge’s stances is that OceanGate should have done a scan of the Titan’s hull instead of using acoustic monitoring, which is what the company’s engineer said was better for finding flaws.

In his complaint, Lochridge alleges that the submersible’s viewport was certified to withstand pressure at 1,300 meters, not 4,000 meters, which was the intended depth.

“The paying passengers would not be aware, and would not be informed, of this experimental design, the lack of non-destructive testing of the hull, or that hazardous flammable materials were being used within the submersible,” according to Lochridge’s lawsuit.

In OceanGate’s complaint in the lawsuit, the company’s lawyer alluded to a potential safety issue when writing that a single scratch on a titanium hemisphere — components that are meant to be able to have clear viewing ports without a gasket and still be water sealed at 4,000 meters — would render it ineffective.

According to The New York Times, OceanGate also received a letter from experts at Manned Underwater Vehicles committee of the Marine Technology Society about concerns with Titan’s development and plans to go down to the Titanic wreck.

The letter, signed by 38 experts, included the concern that the submersible was not certified by an agency, despite the company claiming it could meet safety standards.

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
Follow @hmongilio

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