Canadian safety regulators have launched an investigation into a tragic incident involving a tourist submersible that exploded underwater, killing all five people on board. The submersible is diving to explore the century-old wreck of the Titanic, underscoring concerns about a lack of regulations governing such expeditions.
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) announced Friday that it will launch a safety investigation into Titan’s operations. The decision was made because the submersible’s surface support vessel, the Polar Prince, is a Canadian-flagged vessel. According to Reuters, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board sent a team to St. John’s, Newfoundland, near the scene of the accident, to gather information and conduct interviews.
The wreck of the submersible, known as the Titan, was found on the floor of the North Atlantic Ocean by a remotely operated underwater vehicle deployed by a Canadian search vessel. The discovery marked the end of a five-day international rescue operation.
The wreckage of the Titanic lay about 1,600 feet (488 meters) from the wreck’s bow at a depth of about 2-1/2 miles (4 kilometers), according to U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger .
Admiral Mogg said the debris indicated a “catastrophic implosion of the submersible,” meaning the 22-foot submersible collapsed and was crushed due to the enormous hydrostatic pressure at that depth.
Among the dead was Stockton Rush, chief executive of OceanGate Expeditions, which operated the submersible. The Titanic wreck expedition cost $250,000 each and also included British billionaire and explorer Hamish Harding, Pakistani-born businessman Shahzada Daoud and his son Sur Mann (both British citizens) and the French oceanographer Paul-Henri Nageollet.
Some said Stockton Rush was known for carefully managing risk, while others raised concerns about the Titans’ certification process. Some experts say the submersible’s unique design has not been certified by industry third parties such as the American Bureau of Shipping. Some have also questioned the decision to use carbon fiber for the critical pressure hull and to use non-industry standard components, including a video game joystick for the controls.
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OceanGate’s lack of certification and security concerns were previously highlighted at a 2018 seminar and in a lawsuit filed by the company’s former head of maritime operations. The disaster marked the first known fatality in civilian deep-sea exploration in more than 60 years, as international waters unregulated by governments allow companies like OceanGate to operate independently.
The exact time of the accident has not been determined, but the distance of the debris from the wreck of the Titanic suggests the disaster occurred at the end of the submersible’s descent on Sunday, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
Acoustic data analyzed by the U.S. Navy detected anomalies in the position of the submersible consistent with an implosion or explosion when communications were lost. However, data is inconclusive and search and rescue missions continue.