This commentary paper provides the notes used first in interviews** by IEEE and then later interviews arranged by IEEE for others (Computerworld Magazine, Canadian TV, and Brazil Web Portal, Portogente). Since I was involved in the US—France Cooperative Program in Oceanography, as the US Leader for Marine Technology, Jerry Carroll, President, OES recommended me for the interviews by IEEE. The notes are presented in approximate chronological order first stating the situation in 1912 followed by technological improvements that could have averted the situation.
April 14, 1912, P.M.: The Titanic’s lookouts spotted the iceberg 500 yds away. They tried to turn the ship away, but It was too late for such a large ship. Had they collided head-on, the ship may have survived. Instead, the ship sideswiped the iceberg and sheared the rivets holding the hull plates. The rivets were defective and failed because of sulphur content and were not able to withstand the shear forces at freezing temperature. The failed rivets parted the seams of the hull plates and exposed the water tight sections causing heavy flooding of each section along the way like pealing a banana and then forcing her bow down.
Today, modern ships have sonar that would have easily detected the iceberg because three quarters of a huge iceberg can be underwater. Most ships have surface surveillance radar that could have easily detected the iceberg at far greater ranges. Today’s sonar and radar could have detected the iceberg tens of miles away, affording time to move the ship out of harm’s way. Metallurgical analyses of the rivets revealed their deficiencies. Construction standards would not permit use of such rivets today.
April 14, 1912: Titanic received notification of icebergs in the area but they were not able to quickly affect the course of the ship. Communications were not sophisticated and radio operators were not on duty 24/7. There were no communications to provide distress signals without a radio operator on station. There was no alarm to alert a radio operator.
Today, ship and shore communications are more powerful and reliable and can receive and transmit alarms for ship warnings. Today’s satellite communications systems provide reliable, long range communications. We now require round-the-clock, manned radio operation and the means for automatic distress signaling. Today there is an International Iceberg Watch System to distribute warnings of icebergs, location and drift.
April 15, 1912: Passengers were ill informed and not prepared for the pending disaster. There were insufficient life boats to accommodate the number of passengers. Those that made it on life boats had inadequate rescue or signaling aids, such as flares and radios.
Today, on board training and safety features are mandated including the number and capacity of life boats for each ship. Life boats now have rescue kits containing first aid, signaling devices and radios. In fact, personal mobile communications could be helpful.
April 15, 1912: Titanic breaks up as it sinks to the bottom. Once there, at 4,000 meters depth, her exact position is unknown, and there are no markers to aid location and possible salvage. There were no pressure tight compartments to withstand a water depth pressure of approximately 6,000 lbs per square inch, e.g., the weight of a truck resting on one penny.
Today ships, like aircraft, can be equipped with “black boxes” that provide a ship’s operating parameters just before an accident; as well as automatic acoustic signaling to provide location. There are deep ocean acoustic transponders that can continually signal for long duration or else can be acoustically interrogated from the surface. This can provide needed information for retrieval and salvage.
Post April 15, 1912: There were no means to locate or retrieve Titanic or her constituent parts. Only rough navigation coordinates were available and nothing was accomplished for 73 years.
1985 and beyond: A joint mission under the US-France Program for Cooperation in Oceanography initiated a project to evaluate deep ocean survey systems at 6,000 meters. Joseph Vadus, NOAA and IEEE Fellow, was U.S. Leader for Marine Technology and Jean Jarry of IFREMER was France’s leader administering several projects, one of which was this deep ocean survey project led by Bob Ballard of WHOI and Jean-Louis Michel of IFREMER. Both were at sea and credited with finding Titanic after many days of searching with the WHOI ship R/V Knorr and French ship R/V Le Suroit. The Knorr used the deep towed Argo ROV system equipped with video cameras and side looking sonar and their ANGUS (Acoustically Navigated Geological Underwater Survey) system for high resolution photography; and the Le Suroit used their Systeme Acoustique Remorque (SAR system) to provide acoustic information from two sonars, and a magnetometer. After many programmed traverses, the R/V Knorr, using the Argo system, finally discovered objects of Titanic on September 1, 1985.
|Principals involved in the Titanic discovery (l to r),
Jean-Louis Michel, P.H. Nargeolet, George Tulloch, Captain de Frigate Dominique Girard, Joe Vadus,
Anatoly Sagalevitch, Bill Garzke (Photo by Gloria Vadus)
In succeeding years, there were many Titanic visits using WHOI’s manned submersible Alvin and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV’s) equipped with advanced lighting, cameras and sonar. These visits were mainly for inspection, survey and mapping Titanic and her debris field. There were many visits by manned submersibles: IFREMER’s Nautile and Russia’s P.P. Shirshov Institute’s Mir-1 & Mir-2. There were many scientific and technological studies such as material analyses to assess construction failures, corrosion, microbial activity and deep ocean environmental survivability.
In 1994, the principals involved in the Titanic discovery and/or evaluation participated in a Titanic technical review session, “Titanic: Past, Present and Future” held at the IEEE/OES OCEANS 94 conference in Brest, France. The merits of the technology used in the visits to Titanic were presented. Each speaker gave a paper and then it was opened for questions. Over 100 attended and there was standing room only. These were the speakers and principals involved with the Titanic:
- Jean-Louis Michel of IFREMER was on board the WHOI Ship Knorr with Bob Ballard when they found the Titanic in September 1985, as noted in their Joint paper.
- P. H. Nargeolet, Pilot of IFREMER’s Submersible Nautile; He piloted the first dive on Titanic in 1986.
- George Tulloch, President of RMS Titanic Inc. was involved later in collecting Titanic artifacts even though Bob Ballard and some others sought US legislation to prevent collecting.
- Captain de Frigate Dominique Girard, French Navy retired and with IFREMER.
- Joe Vadus, NOAA and IEEE Fellow, was US Chair on the US-France Cooperative Program in Oceanography. Finding Titanic was one of six projects that year, and it was called “Evaluation of Deep Sea Survey Equipment.” J. L. Michel and Bob Ballard were the project leaders for that project. It was planned for the Azores but Ballard, being a history buff, preferred testing about 400 miles off New Foundland (the probable location of Titanic). With OES President Joe Czika’s encouragement, J. Vadus organized and Co-Chaired the session with D. Girard.
- Anatoly Sagalevitch, Principal Pilot for Russian submersibles Mir-1 & Mir-2. He piloted many visits around Titanic.
- Bill Garzke, Architect at Gibbs & Cox, Inc. conducted studies and analyses of the structural failure of Titanic. He identified the problems with the hull’s plate rivets that were sheared away by sideswiping the iceberg. The rivets material composition was faulty and shear strength was greatly reduced by the freezing water temperature.
“Titanic Expedition 2010” conducted by WHOI using specially equipped ROV’s and Autonomous Undersea Vehicles (AUV’s) with sonars and 3D cameras enabled high resolution investigations. Advanced imaging data in combination with other imaging sources led to the ultimate data collection and resulting archeological map presented in the April 2012 issue of National Geographic Magazine, marking the 100th Anniversary of Titanic’s sinking. Participating organizations included WHOI, NOAA, National Park Service and RMS Titanic Inc, (RMST) and others.
All of the equipment, instrumentation and standards used over the last 25 years in Titanic search, survey, analyses and for education have roots in many of the committees and engineers of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), too numerous to mention. There are many studies, publications and videos produced by many organizations too numerous to mention.
Brazil Interview: Questions by Rosangela Ribeiro, Brazil; and Answers below
Q1–Considering the technologies available nowadays, why do ships still sink?
A1–Despite excellent technology, the main reason for ship accidents at sea ( and sinking ) is human error. Approximately 50 % of ship accidents are due to human error.
Q2–What are the factors which led to the sinking of the RMS Titanic and how it could have been avoided?
A2–One of the main reasons was lack of operating procedures in a dangerous area. Titanic’s lookouts saw the iceberg 500 yards away, too late to turn the huge 46,000 ton ship out of harm’s way. Prior to that the ship’s radio operators used the radio for other priorities such as personal communications, stock reports, etc. There were no emergency procedures for ship operators. Operators were off duty at times and no alarms could be transmitted or received. Better precautions should have been taken in this dangerous zone. Reducing ship’s speed and using searchlights could have helped.
Q3–What’s the role played by human errors in today’s technological landscape?
A3–Despite advances in technology, human errors will always prevail. There are efforts to minimize human error by providing redundant controls and independent alarms to alert operators. However, it may not be possible to claim that human error is not possible just like they claimed that Titanic was unsinkable.
** Interviewers were
- Elizabeth Levit, Finn Partners, representing IEEE Publicity
- Sharon Gaudin, Senior Writer, Computerworld; Telephone Interview
- Owen Donnelly, IEEE Public Visibility team and Lucas Ferreira, IEEE Brazil team
- Rosangela Ribeiro, Editor of the web portal Portogente and website of the São Paulo State Engineer’s Union
- Juliya Sotska, Canadian TV News; Sarika Sehgal, Newscaster—Live Interview