ARGUABLY THE WORLD’S most iconic shipwreck, the Titanic has, for over 100 years, captivated the public consciousness, its story having been told countless times. Hailed as the “unsinkable ship”, not only was it the largest passenger liner of its time, it was the largest man-made object on Earth.
COLLIDING WITH AN ICEBERG in the North Atlantic Ocean, the Titanic was sunk in the early hours of April 15, 1912 on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. In just three hours, the ship went down, and more than 1,500 of the 2,224 passengers and crew perished, making it one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in recent history.
THE WRECK OF THE TITANIC was finally discovered on September 1, 1985, by a team led by Dr Robert Ballard, using a remote deep-sea sub “Argo”. It was found 640 kilometres off the coast of Newfoundland at a depth of 3,840 metres. As it sank, the ship divided forward of the third funnel. The bow and stern (now almost unrecognisable) sit 600 metres apart in a debris field estimated to spread over around 400 hectares.
THERE HAVE BEEN MANY THEORIES published over the years that might explain why a ship designed to be unsinkable was lost in less than three hours. In 2012, long forgotten photographs of the ship surfaced, taken by the Titanic’s chief electrical engineer, John Kempster, appearing to provide new evidence. IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN known that a fire had been burning for days inside one of the threestory-high coalbunkers, but perhaps it had made a much greater contribution to the Titanic’s fate than was originally thought.
IN A NEW DOCUMENTARY, journalist Senan Molony, who has spent more than 30 years researching the subject, uses the recently discovered photographs and transcripts from the British inquiry as evidence, to assert that the strength of the bulkhead where the fire had raged was catastrophically compromised. When the Titanic began taking on water, a bulkhead breach would have had a devastating effect, flooding neighbouring compartments.
OTHER LEADING TITANIC experts have published a detailed rebuttal of the theory, but lessons learned from the disaster have informed standards of shipbuilding today and improved safety regulations. Astonishingly, the Titanic only had sufficient life rafts to accommodate 1,178 of the 2,224 passengers and crew it was carrying. It was only after so many perished that night that it was made a mandatory requirement for a vessel’s lifeboat capacity to equal the number of passengers and crew.
ON THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY of her sinking, the Titanic became a UNESCO underwater cultural heritage site.