The Risks of Exploration

One of my children asked for my opinion on the failure of the sub, “Titan” and another suggested I write an article. They are influenced by their life experience of their father actively writing and regularly involved in forensic analysis of maritime accidents, some involving fatalities. It is not uncommon that I team up with engineers, naval architects and other experts tasked with forming an onion as to the cause of loss, and testify about those opinions.

I have not been involved with any submersible projects; “Sub for Sale” on Pawn Stars being the exception. Coincidentally this was also done at the request of my children (who were fans of the show) and is at the other end of the spectrum (in so many ways). 

I understand the maritime desire to explore and I hear the siren song. It is exciting to set sail for a new harbor, chart a course for the first time and to complete a voyage to that destination and be rewarded with a unique experience. Even simple voyages pay dividends. Trying to navigate a 45’ catamaran into Little Harbor, Catalina, going slightly off the beaten track to Anegada, BVI or stopping for lunch at Kopanyee, a floating city in the Andaman Sea and home of the Panyee FC. Though these are relatively simple adventures, they do have moments of exhilaration like dragging anchor toward a sheer rock bluff in the middle of the night, in a monsoon in the South Pacific or even picking up a mooring in close quarters and heavy winds at Avalon. It is rewarding to face a challenge and overcome it. Many humans enjoy the rush of adrenaline, some more than others.

As for the sub “Titan”, I have not done extensive research. I have read articles and watched news reports. Stockton Rush, one of the founders of OceanGate, used carbon fiber in its construction. This is a common construction material in our world. Titan had descended to the Titanic numerous times and had descended far deeper. Mr. Rush was a graduate of Princeton and U.C. Berkeley, was reportedly risk adverse, and clearly believed in the technology in which he perished. A group of other deep sea explorers have warned of problems and cited noncompliance with standards and some questionable use of carbon fiber. He had reportedly decided that compliance delayed progress.

An investigation has begun into the cause of the failure of Titan. Cutting edge exploration has an incredibly high cost. Think of the space shuttle “Challenger” and so many other aerospace projects. There will be lessons learned and technological advances.

No one can know if the juice is worth the squeeze, we all have our own opinion. Sometimes “treasure” is discovered in the outer reaches of space or the depths of the sea that benefits humanity to an extent worth this incredibly high cost. Sometimes it is just the Siren’s Song luring mariners. Risky exploration will continue.

RIP to the five souls aboard the Titan. My heartfelt condolences to all their family. A father and son were lost, such a sad event.

Just four days prior to the loss of the “Titan” sub, a migrant vessel rolled over in the Mediterranean, so far 80 bodies have been found and 500 people are missing and these tragedies are not uncommon. They were seeking a new life, like the passengers on the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. RIP to all of them.