According to the pieces of information coming out in the press, the submersible Titan had 100 hours of oxygen, which meant oxygen supplies on board would have expired at circa 1.08pm local time on Thursday, June 22.

A number of us have followed this story very closely hoping to hear and see urgent “breaking news” announcing the Titan was located and its passengers safe. Regrettably, at around 9pm that same day, we witnessed a news conference given by the US Coast Guard. We heard that a “debris field” had been located close to the Titanic by a sophisticated ROV and that five major pieces of debris indicated they were the remains of the Titan.

The contents of the “debris field” were consistent with a catastrophic implosion of the submersible. The passengers would have had no chance of survival. The only thing which can possibly console the families is that the passing of their dear ones must have been immediate and must have occurred in seconds.

No noise consistent with such a catastrophic implosion had been heard since those providing rescue services had put up sonar buoys intended to pick up sound. This would indicate that the submersible suffered the catastrophic implosion prior to the mobilisation of the rescue operation and the Titan most probably met its fate when connectivity was lost a couple of hours after the descent on Sunday.

The human perspective of this story is poignant and heart-breaking and no words can bring any form of comfort or solace to the family and friends of the five who lost their lives.

They clearly knew the extent of the danger that they were getting themselves into and, from the various reports available, it is understood that they probably signed off all sorts of acknowledgments of the danger involved and waivers exonerating the owners of this submersible OceanGate from the state of Washington in the US.

However, this is precisely the point which has intrigued me. The burning question which appears to have been absent from the various reports we have been presented with is: How can a company like OceanGate offer such a “tour” on commercial terms, in the region of $250,000, to the wreck of the Titanic, at a depth of 2,800 metres, in a 6.5-metre submersible without, apparently, such a craft falling within the regulatory safety regime of any state or country?

If it does, we have not seen any comments or declarations by such a flag state or registrar from the flag state registry with information regarding the registration of this craft and the safety regulatory regime which it ought to answer to.

Those of us involved in the maritime sector know full well that when a commercial vessel carrying goods or passengers is involved in any form of incident, the regulatory regime of the flag state holding the registration of the vessel immediately comes forward with its observations.

It also comes under the spotlight; immediate investigations are launched into the safety standards of such a flag state with questions raised regarding whether the vessel concerned observed these safety standards.

Yet, in this case, the “regulator” is conspicuous by its absence and we appear to be facing a situation where the Titan does not appear to have been “registered” anywhere. We are informed that she was loaded on board another vessel,  the Polar Prince, a support vessel registered in St John, Newfoundland, Canada on June 16. The Polar Prince departed St John and took the Titan to the environs of the Titanic wreck where it was then lowered into the water.

The Polar Prince is reportedly owned by Miawpuek Horizon Maritime Service Ltd and the vessel is chartered for educational and research expedition use. The Titan, therefore, is not part of the “kit” of the Polar Prince and does not belong to the Polar Prince but appears to be a totally separate and distinct “vessel”.

Remarkably, we have not been provided with any information which would remotely suggest that the Titan was registered with a flag state subject to the safety regulations of that flag state.

In an article appearing in The Guardian (June 21), it appears that, in the past, OceanGate had, in some marketing material that was provided, declared that “Titan design would meet or exceed the DNV – GL safety standards”. Yet, the submersible had never been classed by DNV or any other classification society, for that matter.

The article goes on to say that “the ability of the sub’s full design to withstand such depths was questioned in a 2018 lawsuit filed by OceanGate’s former director of marine operations, David Lockridge who said he was fired after he raised safety concerns about the vessel”.

The article details the concerns experts had regarding the safety credentials of this craft.

The burning question, therefore, remains, irrespective of the desire and willingness of the paying passenger to embark on this clearly dangerous adventure.

Is it possible that we are witnessing a scenario where a commercial entity appears to be able to provide a significantly high-risk expedition without operating within the realms of any form of safety regulatory regime?

No doubt, we will hear more about this going forward.

by Dr Ann Fenech, Head of the Marine Litigation Department, Fenech & Fenech Advocates and president of the Comite Maritime International.

Source: Times of Malta

Karin Grech
Author: Karin Grech