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Monday, 14 April 2014

Safety of Life at Sea ...

Today marks the one hundred and second anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic. The White Star liner was, in First Class, the epitome of luxury, but, like most of her contemporaries, designed to carry a much larger number of Third Class passengers. That was where the money really came from for the shipping lines.

We remember the Titanic because of the 'celebrity' names that went down with her, and, because she made the headlines, of the fact that she changed the 'Rules' applicable to such ships in future. She was not the 'greatest maritime' disaster, and, as we have recently been forcibly reminded, she certainly isn't the last either. With the centenary, we are once again seeing a resurgence in all manner of 'consipracy' type theories about why she sank. Everything ranging from blaming Winston Churchill for her 'lack' of lifeboats (she carried three times as many as the regulations required - enough capacity for around two thirds of her people), through an assertion that her builders used 'bad steel' and even that she was in fact the Olympic, and the owners were trying to claim the insurance.

A great deal is made, in recent years, of her watertight subdivision, which is acknowledged as inadequate. In fact both Olympic and Britannic (and all the big Cunard liners of the time) were immediately taken in hand quietly and modified to address the identified problems. The sinking did give rise to changes to the Board of Trade Rules for passenger ships, and, more importantly, brought about the earliest 'international' agreement on Safety of Life at Sea which has become known as the SOLAS Rules now promulgated by the International  Maritime Organisatioa The latest study actually concludes that there were no more icebergs adrift that year and at that time than usual - in fact it was an unusually quiet year for them.

Deficient though her compartmentation was, and we must remember she wasn't designed to stay afloat with more than four compartments flooded, she had six 'open to the sea' after the collision, and probably two more damaged. The fact she stayed afloat for four hours after the collision says a great deal for the design. The real tragedy is that so few obeyed the order to abandon ship.

In other words, it was sheer bad luck that she found the one that sank her.

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