The company, whose submersible disappeared during a tourist dive to the Titanic wreck in the North Atlantic, has been warned repeatedly that the company could face “catastrophic” safety problems, documents show.
With five people aboard a ship that is running out of oxygen if it were still operational, a growing international fleet of ships and planes is searching for the Titan, operated by OceanGate Expeditions. Based in Everett, Washington, the underwater exploration company has been making annual trips to Titanic since 2021.
The first piece of good news since the search began was that a Canadian plane spotted underwater noise, although the vessel was not found, the US Coast Guard reported early Wednesday.
David Lochridge, head of marine operations at OceanGate, wrote a technical report in 2018 saying the ship under development needed more testing and that passengers could be at risk if it reached “extreme depths,” an in lawsuit filed in US District Court Seattle earlier this year.
OceanGate sued Lochridge earlier this year, accusing him of violating a nondisclosure agreement and filing a counterclaim alleging he was wrongly fired for raising questions about testing and safety. The case was settled several months after it was filed on undisclosed terms.
Lochridge’s concerns centered primarily on the company’s decision to rely on sensitive acoustic monitoring — pops or pops made by the hull under pressure — rather than a scan of the hull, to detect defects. Lochridge said the company told him there was no equipment that could perform such a test on the 5-inch (12.7 centimeters) thick carbon fiber hull.
“This was problematic because this type of acoustic analysis would only show when a component was about to fail – often milliseconds before an implosion – and would detect no faults present before pressure was applied to the fuselage,” the report said Counterclaim by Lochridge.
In addition, the ship was designed to reach depths of 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) where Titanic rested. However, Lochridge said the passenger viewing window was only certified for depths of up to 1,300 meters (4,265 feet), and OceanGate would not pay the manufacturer the cost of building a 4,000 meter certified viewing window.
OceanGate’s decisions would “potentially expose passengers in an experimental submersible to extreme danger,” the counter-lawsuit states.
However, the company stated in its complaint that Lochridge “is not an engineer and has not been hired or asked to provide technical services for Titan”. He was fired after refusing to accept assurances from OceanGate’s chief engineer that the acoustic monitoring and testing protocol was in fact better suited to detecting any deficiencies than a scan, the complaint said.
Also in 2018 came warnings from the Marine Technology Society, which bills itself as “a professional group of marine engineers, technologists, policymakers and educators.”
In a letter to Stockton Rush, OceanGate’s chief executive officer, the company said it was vital to protecting passengers that the company support its prototype for pre-launch testing under expert supervision.
Rush had refused to do so.
Rush piloted the ship that is now missing.
The letter, reported by the New York Times, said society members were concerned that “Oceangate’s current experimental approach could produce negative results (ranging from the minor to the catastrophic) that could have serious consequences for everyone in the industry.” would have.”
In a 2019 Smithsonian Magazine interview, Rush lamented that the industry’s approach stifles innovation.
“There hasn’t been any harm in the commercial sub-industry for over 35 years,” he said. “It’s incredibly safe because there are all these regulations. But there has also been no innovation or growth – because there are all these regulations.”