OceanGate Expeditions, a company offering deep sea tourist dives to the wreckage of the Titanic for €250,000 per person, lost contact with its latest mission about 1h and 45 minutes after the submarine started descending on Sunday, 18 June.
There are five people aboard the Titan submersible, with Stockton Rush, OceanGate’s CEO, British billionaire explorer Hamish Harding and renowned French diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet believed to be among the crew. The family of Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood confirmed in a statement that he and his son are also on board.
If the ship is undamaged, the team should have about 70 hours’ worth of oxygen left, with optimistic estimates approximating up to 96 hours, according to Rear Adm John Mauger of the US Coast Guard.
Titanic’s wreck site is about 700km south of St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. Both the US and Canadian coast guards, as well as the Canadian armed forces, have dispatched radar equipped ships and aircraft to search for the missing submarine. Commercial vessels in the area have also been notified to be on the lookout.
According to Alistair Greig, a professor of marine engineering at University College London, there are two possibilities for what has happened with Titan. “Submersibles typically have a drop weight, which is a mass they can release in the case of an emergency to bring them up to the surface using buoyancy. If there was a power failure and/or communication failure, this might have happened, and the submersible would then be bobbing about on the surface waiting to be found”, Greig explained, reported by the Independent.
The alternative scenario is the ship has been damaged, with a possible leak in the pressure hall causing Titan to sink to the ocean floor instead of rising to the surface. “If it has gone down to the seabed and can’t get back up under its own power, options are very limited. While the submersible might still be intact, if it is beyond the continental shelf, there are very few vessels that can get that deep, and certainly not divers”, Greig said.
According to the marine engineering professor, even if another submersible managed to dive that deeply underwater, they would not be able to latch on to Titan’s hatch to bring it back up to the surface.
The company’s CEO has previously described Titan as “rock solid”, however, according to a November 2022 court filing, the ship had a battery issue on its first dive and had to be manually attached to its lifting platform. “In the high sea state, the submersible sustained modest damage to its external components and OceanGate decided to cancel the second mission for repairs and operational enhancements”, the filing stated.
As of the morning of 20 June, the location of the submersible has yet to be determined. “We are exploring and mobilizing all options to bring the crew back safely”, OceanGate said in a statement on 19 June. “Our entire focus is on the crewmembers of the submersible and their families. We are deeply thankful for the extensive assistance we have received from several government agencies and deep sea companies in our efforts to re-establish contact with the submersible. We are working toward the safe return of the crewmembers”, the statement added.