Saturday, May 1, 2010
The RMS Titanic was built in Belfast, Ireland and was an Olympic-class passenger liner owned by the White Star Line. At the time of its construction, it was the largest passenger steamboat in the world. On April 14, 1912, four days into the voyage, the Titanic struck an iceberg sinking early the next morning according to accepted reports. The ship sunk only two hours and forty minutes after striking the iceberg. The sinking became one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history resulting in the deaths of 1,517 of the 2,223 people on board.
Although the ship was complying with regulations of the time, the capacity of the lifeboats was 1,178 although the ships maximum capacity was 3,547. A disproportionate number of men died due to the women and children first protocol that was followed. As a result 74 percent of the women, 52 percent of the children, and only 20 percent of the men on board were saved. The Titanic incorporated the most advanced technologies of the time and was designed by some of the most experienced engineers. Many believed that the ship was unsinkable resulting in a great shock to many that despite its extensive safety features, it sank. The accepted theory is that buckling of the hull allowed water to enter the ships first five watertight compartments (one more than it was designed to survive) causing it to sink soon after.
Now that we know what the accepted theory is, let's examine some of the conspiracies. One conspiracy is that the Titanic didn't hit an iceberg, but low lying pack ice. A former member of the Ice Pilotage Service, Captain L.M. Collins, published The Sinking of the Titanic: The Mystery Solved in 2003. This was based on his own experiences of ice navigation and witness statements given at two post-disaster inquiries. One piece of evidence supporting this theory is that 10 minutes before the ship was struck, two lookouts spotted what appeared to be haze on the horizon. Collins believes that what they saw wasn't haze, but a strip of pack ice three to four miles ahead of the ship. There was much discrepancy as to the height of the ice. The lookouts reported it as being 60 feet tall, 100 feet by Quartermaster Rowe, and very low in the water by Fourth Officer Boxhall, who was on the starboard side. An optical phenomenon that is well know to ice navigators where the flat sea and extreme cold distort the appearance of objects near the waterline making them appear to be the height of the ships lights, about 60 feet above the surface near the bow and 100 feet along the super structure, is believed to have occurred by Collins. He also believes that had the Titanic struck an iceberg, the ship would most likely have flooded, capsized, and sunk within minutes.
Another theory is that a coal fire indirectly led to the iceberg collision. Robert Essenhigh, an Ohio State engineer, released a theory in 2004 claiming that a pile of stored coal started to smolder causing more coal to be put in to the furnaces. He believes this attempt to get control of the situation led to dangerously high speeds in the iceberg-laden waters. Records prove that fire control teams at the ports of Cherbourg and Southampton were on standby because of a stockpile fire. Fires of this sort are known to reignite after they've supposedly been extinguished. Essenhigh believes the Titanic left Southampton with one of its bunkers on fire or that a spontaneous combustion of coal occurred after the ship left port. These types of fires were common occurrences aboard coal-fired ships and were one of many reasons why marine transportation switched to oil in the early 1900s.
Perhaps the most controversial and complex theory is by the author of the book, Titanic: The Ship That Never Sank?, Robin Gardiner. In her book, she cites several events leading up to the sinking of the Titanic and concludes that the ship that sank was in fact Titanic's sister ship, the RMS Olympic, disguised as the Titanic for an elaborate insurance scam. The Olympic was Titanic's older sister although it was built alongside the Titanic and entered service in October 1910. The two ships were nearly identical except for the fact that the Titanic contained smaller glazed windows to protect passengers from spray. The Olympic was involved in a collision with the HMS Hawke near Southampton on September 20, 1911 causing serious damage to both ships. The Hawke was not found responsible for the collision. According to Gardiner, White Star Line wasn't insured for the cost of fixing the damaged Olympic. Realizing that it would be more economical to make the Titanic appear to be the Olympic rather than remove parts from the Titanic to the Olympic, the company converted the almost complete Titanic into the Olympic removing any parts that had its name so at least one vessel could be earning money. Gardiner believes that the Titanic spent 25 years imitating the Olympic until the Titanic's (or Olympic's according to official reports) retirement in 1934.
Gardiner believes that White Star Line's plan was to dispose the Olympic so insurance money could be collected. Gardiner also believes that the seacocks (a boat's valve permitting the entry of water into the boat) were supposed to be opened up at sea and that the nearby ships would be able to rescue the passengers. They thought the shortage of lifeboats wouldn't be a problem because the ship would sink slowly allowing the lifeboats to be able to make several trips to and from the Olympic to its rescuers. She thinks Officer Murdoch was keeping a watch out for rescue ships on April 14 even though he wasn't on duty yet because he was one of the few high ranking officers who knew of the plan. Gardiner's most controversial statement is that what the Titanic struck was really not an iceberg, but a rescue ship with its lights out. She hypothesizes this because of the short distance the lookouts saw the iceberg and of her belief that an impact with an iceberg couldn't cause such serious damage to a steel double-hulled ship like the Titanic.
As to the mechanics of Titanic's breakup, Walter Lord, the author of A Night To Remember, assumed the ship was at an absolutely perpendicular angle before its final plunge. This theory remained unchallenged for the most part even after the ship's discovery in 1985 confirmed it had broken in two pieces at or near the surface. Most researchers acknowledge that the Titanic's expansion joint played no role in the ships breakup although it was designed be able to flex at sea. In 2005, a history channel expedition analyzed two large section of Titanic's keel which consisted of the portion of the ship's bottom from immediately below the site of the break. With the help of naval architect, Roger Long, they publicized a new theory in the 2006 documentary, Titanic's Final Moments: Missing Pieces. They believed that Titanic's angle at the time of the breakup was far less than originally believed and no greater than eleven degrees. Long also suspects that the quicker-than-expected sinking resulting in a greater loss of life was due to a premature failure of the ship's expansion joint. It was discovered that Titanic's sister ship, the Britannic, had expansion joints that were superior to that of the Titanic's. In the 2007 documentary, Titanic's Achilles Heel, Long's theory was proven wrong when computer simulations showed Titanic's expansion joints were strong enough to handle all stresses the ship could reasonably be expected to encounter in service and that during its sinking, it actually outperformed its design specifications.
It is certainly possible that what the Titanic struck was not an iceberg but pack ice instead. It was common for piles of stored coal to smolder making it possible that more coal was added to the ship's furnace to get control of the situation. This may have caused the ship to travel at dangerously high speeds, resulting in a loss of maneuverability, preventing the ship's operators from being able to navigate around dangerous objects at sea. The sinking of the Titanic could have been purposefully caused but it seems highly unlikely such plan would work. I could not grasp how a company would risk the lives of so many innocent people with the intention of committing an insurance scam for their personal gain. If the Titanic had in fact collided with another darkened ship, why are there no records of such incident and why have the remains of the other ship involved in the collision not been found? It seems highly possible that the angle of the Titanic at the time of the breakup was no greater than eleven degrees and that despite the end result, the ship outperformed its design specifications. Regardless of whether the ship was intentionally sunk or not, the lives of 1,517 innocent people were lost in what was one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.