Titan submersible company warned years ago by experts that 'experimental' approach could lead to 'catastrophe'

21 June 2023, 06:38

The company was warned five years ago about its approach
The company was warned five years ago about its approach. Picture: OceanGate/Handout

By Kit Heren

The company that owns and operates the Titan submersible that has gone missing deep in the Atlantic was warned about the possible "catastrophic" consequences of its "experimental" methods five years ago.

Submersible experts sent a letter to OceanGate in 2018 warning that the "experimental approach" of the company could result in problems ranging "from minor to catastrophic."

The letter, sent by the manned underwater vehicles committee of the Marine Technology Society, a trade group that aims to promote ocean technology and educate the public.

There was no further detail on the experts' concerns. But it comes after a friend of one of the men on board said he changed his mind about taking a trip himself because of safety fears.

“I found out they used old scaffolding poles for the sub’s ballast — and its controls were based on computer game-style controllers," Mr Brown told the Sun.

Read more: 'Signs of life': 'Banging' heard by searchers scouring ocean for missing Titanic submersible, sparking rescue hopes

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

“If you’re trying to build your own submarine you could probably use old scaffold poles. But this was a commercial craft.

It is unclear if OceanGate or its CEO Stockton Rush, currently onboard the Titan, wrote back or made changes based on the Marine Technology Society's letter.

Foreign Secretary hopes missing submersible will be swiftly found'

It comes as banging sounds were heard by searchers hunting for the Titan, sparking faint hopes of a rescue, with the people on board having just around 30 hours of oxygen left.

The Titan went missing on Sunday, about 12,500ft below the waves and 435 miles from Newfoundland.

Five passengers were onboard, UK billionaire Hamish Harding, two Pakistanis - Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman - Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, as well as 73-year-old French explorer Paul-Henry Nargeolet.

As a huge search operation was launched with rescuers scouring an area the size of Connecticut, Mr Dawood’s family asked for people to send their prayers.

“Our son Shahzada Dawood and his son, Suleman, had embarked on a journey to visit the remnants of the Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean. Contact has been lost with their submersible craft and there is limited information available,” a statement said.

Read more: 'It's get to the surface or die': Lost Titanic submarine went missing for over two hours on expedition last year

Read more: 'Trapped... and no-one can reach them': Friend of billionaire on Oceangate Titanic submarine tells of her biggest fear

The final picture of the missing sub seen above water before the mission was launched
The final picture of the missing sub seen above water before the mission was launched. Picture: Twitter

“We are very grateful for the concern being shown by our colleagues and friends and would like to request everyone to pray for their safety while granting the family privacy at this time.

“The family is well looked after and are praying to Allah for the safe return of their family members.”

The last ‘ping’ from the sub was received yesterday afternoon above the wreck site. The submarine, which can hold up to five people paying $250,000 each for the trip, is estimated to have up to 96 hours of oxygen left, meaning the rescuers have a deadline of midday on Thursday to recover it. However there are growing fears if the vessel is stricken in the depths, it will be impossible to ever recover it.

British billionaire Hamish Harding is on board
British billionaire Hamish Harding is on board. Picture: Alamy

Read more: 'We have to move now!': Vital equipment needed to rescue Titanic submersible 'stuck on tarmac due to US bureaucracy'

A major search and rescue operation, which is being led by the US Coast Guard and involving military aircraft 900 miles east of Cape Cod, was continuing on Tuesday.

The US Coast Guard said the Canadian research vessel Polar Prince and 106 Rescue wing will continue to conduct surface searches while the US Coast Guard sent two C-130 flights to search for the missing submersible.

Rear Admiral John W Mauger of the US Coast Guard said they are doing "everything" they can to find the submersible, saying it has one pilot and four mission specialists aboard with up to 96 hours of emergency oxygen on board.

Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman are on the submarine
Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman are on the submarine. Picture: World Economic Forum

"We anticipate that there's somewhere between 70 to the full 96 hours at this point," he said on Monday. "It is a remote area and a challenge, but we are deploying all available assets to make sure we can locate the craft and rescue the people onboard," he said.

Mark Butler, managing director of Action Aviation, said: "There is still plenty of time to facilitate a rescue mission, there is equipment on board for survival in this event. We're all hoping and praying he comes back safe and sound."

Mr Harding holds three Guinness World Records, including the longest duration at full ocean depth by a crewed vessel when in March 2021, he and ocean explorer Victor Vescovo dived to the lowest depth of the Mariana Trench. In June 2022, he went into space on Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket.

OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush (L) is among the five people on board the stricken submarine
OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush (L) is among the five people on board the stricken submarine. Picture: Alamy

His cousin, Kathleen Cosnett, told The Daily Telegraph she saw Mr Harding as "daring" and "inquisitive", and that she was "devastated" to learn he was missing.

On social media at the weekend, he said he was "proud to finally announce" he would be aboard the mission to the wreck of the Titanic, the luxury ocean liner which hit an iceberg and sank in 1912, killing more than 1,500 people.

The Explorer's Club, of which Mr Harding is a founding member of, shared the news of his disappearance on Instagram with club president Richard Garriot saying: "When I saw Hamish last week... his excitement about this expedition was palpable," he said.

"I know he was looking forward to conducting research at the site. We all join in the fervent hope that the submersible is located as quickly as possible and the crew is safe."

OceanGate Expeditions said its focus was on those aboard the vessel and their families.

"We are deeply thankful for the extensive assistance we have received from several government agencies and deep sea companies in our efforts to re-establish contact with the submersible," the company said in a statement.

"We are working toward the safe return of the crew members."

A court document filed by OceanGate in the US in April states that the submersible, named Titan, can dive to 13,120ft "with a comfortable safety margin", Associated Press reported on Monday.

Titan weighs 20,000lb, is made of "titanium and filament wound carbon fibre" and has proven to "withstand the enormous pressures of the deep ocean", OceanGate reportedly said.

The submersible was taking part in OceanGate's third annual voyage to the monitor the decay of the ship's wreckage, following expeditions in 2021 and 2022.

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