'I was offered the chance to go to my great-grandfather's grave on Titanic in the Titan sub - I'm glad it didn't happen'

22 June 2023, 08:23

Julie Cook's great-grandfather died onboard the Titanic
Julie Cook's great-grandfather died onboard the Titanic. Picture: Amazon/OceanGate/Alamy

By Kit Heren

The great-granddaughter of a Titanic worker who died aboard the ocean liner when it sunk in 1912 was given the opportunity to visit the ruins in the same tiny submersible that is currently lost beneath the waves.

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Julie Cook, a British journalist and author, was offered the chance by OceanGate to go down in the Titan sub with a camera crew in 2021.

Her great-grandfather William Bessant, a stoker on board the Titanic, was one of more than 1,500 passengers and crew who died as the ship went down.

"I initially said yes as a journalist, as you do, it was a work thing and also quite poignant," Ms Cook told LBC's Nick Ferrari on Thursday.

"But it never came off [because of] post-Covid problems and red tape - it sort of fizzled out."

Read more: Titanic sub's last hours: rescuers have until 12.08pm today to find missing Titan before oxygen runs out

Read more: Friend of Hamish Harding paid £110,000 to join Titanic submarine expedition but pulled out over ‘safety concerns’

Ex-Royal Navy Boat Commander Tom Sharpe speaks on missing sub

The five people on the missing Titan submersible have until 12.08pm UK time on Thursday before their oxygen runs out.

The people onboard are UK billionaire Hamish Harding, two Pakistanis - Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman - Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, who operate the boat, as well as 73-year-old French explorer Paul-Henry Nargeolet.

Ms Cook said: "Obviously now that I’ve seen what happened, number one I feel dreadful for the people there, and I have no judgement on them for doing this, I really, really am worried for them and praying that they come back.

"But I’m also breathing a huge sigh of relief and wondering if it was ever something I should have considered."

The Titan being launched
The Titan being launched. Picture: OceanGate

Ms Cook, whose book The Titanic and the City of Widows it left Behind looks at the bereaved families of the Titanic victims, said she didn't have too many safety concerns at the time.

"I knew it was going to be a small enclosed space which didn’t appeal to me massively. If I’m honest I was quite naive, I think my main concern at the time was going to the loo."

She added: "I thought [OceanGate] are at the top of their game, there’s so much money behind it... you do put your faith in these people. I now think I definitely should have thought twice and I’m glad it didn’t happen."

Asked by Nick if she thought 'Titanic tourism' was distasteful, Ms Cook said she thought there was a "big difference" between Titanic research and Titanic tourism.

People inside Titan on a different voyage
People inside Titan on a different voyage. Picture: OceanGate

She added: "I think there’s a big difference between going down to look at the erosion, for example, and ticking it off your list as something you’ve done...

"It is a resting place not just for my great grandfather but 1,500 other people who lost their lives in absolute terror.

"And some of them were children - one of the bellboys was 16. These were people who had such a tragic end and I just think that place is so full of woe - I just wonder if we should leave her be now."

Rescuers race against clock after noises heard from Titanic vessel search area

Ms Cook's comments come as rescuers continue to hunt the 6.7 metre-long vessel, which has been missing in the Atlantic since Sunday, when the ship's handlers lost contact with it.

Hope has been sparked by sounds of banging that officials think could be the passengers trying to send a message, but others have warned that the search is extremely difficult.

Former naval commander Tom Sharpe said that the sounds may be "confirmation bias" - rescuers hearing something they want to hear.

He told Nick on Thursday: "If you’re looking for a red flare, or you’re looking for a periscope… there’s always a handful of people who pop up saying that’s what they think they’ve seen. The ocean’s a noisy place - they’re in the vicinity of the Titanic, which is made of metal.

"I have a horrible feeling that the sounds heard may well be confirmation bias, rather than tapping on a... hull at 3,800 metres.I hope I’m wrong but that’s what it feels like."