Wednesday, 4 January 2017
Fire on the Titanic
What I didn't know was how a huge fire below decks probably speeded up the sinking, and was hushed up by the ship's owners and by the crew.
A TV documentary on Sunday* explained how the fire had raged for weeks in the coal store before the maiden voyage, the temperature so high it buckled one of the watertight bulkheads and made it brittle.
When the ship collided with the iceberg and water started pouring in, the bulkhead cracked, water poured through it and the ship sank more rapidly.
If the Titanic had stayed afloat another hour or two, all the passengers could have been saved by RMS Carpathia, which came to the rescue after getting distress signals. But because the ship sank so fast, over 1500 people died.
There were other human errors that led to the massive loss of life, like the shortage of lifeboats, life jackets not being given out, and general confusion among the passengers and crew, but the fire was a major factor.
It's no surprise to discover White Star Line instructed the crew to keep the fire secret so as not to damage the company's reputation. Even the official inquiry thought the fire was irrelevant and declared the sinking an Act of God. On the contrary, it was the result of human carelessness and misjudgments on a huge scale.
The steel used in the bulkheads, for example, was not of the highest, fire-resistant quality. The ship's owners cut costs by using lower-grade steel. The bulkheads were reduced by several feet to allow for a grander central staircase. They also used low-quality rivets.
Act of God, my arse!
* "Titanic: The New Evidence", Channel Four, January 1 2017