The Story of the Titan Submersible Has Not Ended
Tragedy Strikes as Submarine Titan Collapses During Titanic Exploration
In the wake of the tragic loss of the Titan submersible and the lives of five individuals, Rear Adm. John Mauger, commander of the First Coast Guard District, stood before the cameras, revealing the grim conclusion that all five were presumed dead. It marked a somber moment in history, but it cannot be the end of the story. The realm of undersea exploration, whether for scientific research or tourism, must persist, urging us to delve into the unseen wonders of our planet. However, ensuring the safety of those who embark on such voyages remains an arduous task that lies ahead.
While the confirmation of the Titan's demise brings answers to immediate questions, it simultaneously raises numerous others. OceanGate Expeditions, the company responsible for the submersible, allowed individuals to venture into an uncertified and experimental vessel. The disregard shown by its leader, Stockton Rush, toward safety concerns demands scrutiny. Moreover, the system that dedicates substantial efforts and resources to rescue the privileged few while thousands of migrants perish at sea requires reevaluation. The responsibility for this tragedy is shared among nations, prompting the need to define and fulfill their obligations. The loss of the Titan also poses profound implications for the future of human underwater research.
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Major Marine Casualty
To address these pressing issues and more, a comprehensive investigation must be conducted transparently and publicly, with the aim of establishing accountability and consequences. Recognizing the international dimensions of the incident, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board, given the Canadian registry of the Polar Prince, the ship from which the submersible was launched, announced its investigation into the operation's circumstances. The U.S. Coast Guard, alongside the National Transportation Safety Board, declared the loss a "major marine casualty" and pledged to convene a Marine Board of Investigation. These developments offer hope, but the execution of the mandate will be paramount. The investigation's scope, conduct, transparency, and the forcefulness of its findings should concern not only the submersible community but everyone invested in maritime safety.
History has shown that even from the depths of horrific wrecks, salvaging valuable lessons is possible. Drawing parallels with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, investigations led by the U.S. Senate and the British Board of Trade birthed the Safety of Life at Sea treaty. This landmark treaty mandated safety measures for oceangoing ships, including the provision of lifeboats, lifeboat drills, standardized distress signals, and assistance to vessels in distress. Today, international conventions and laws govern ocean shipping, overseen by the United Nations International Maritime Organization, ensuring that ships meet certain standards regardless of their origin.
Regulations and Protocol
However, such regulations do not extend to submersibles, which are typically governed by national regulations, limited to territorial waters. To prevent future disasters, two potential courses of action emerge. Firstly, the International Maritime Organization could establish safety standards for submersibles, requiring their registration with a flag state, mirroring the regulations applied to oceangoing ships. This approach would ensure that submersibles meet stringent requirements, subject to examination and inspection by other countries under port state authority. Secondly, adopting a provision from the Outer Space Treaty could assign responsibility to the launching state for activities conducted by both government and nongovernment entities. In the case of the Titan investigation, the jurisdiction remains unclear, as the craft was reportedly built in the United States but deployed from a Canadian vessel.
Another widely discussed suggestion involves discontinuing human voyages to the deep sea, especially those driven by tourism. However, this would be a regrettable mistake. While unmanned vehicles provide stunning visuals of marine life and shipwrecks, the value of human presence and perception cannot be replaced.