Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Fire on the Titanic

I'm fascinated by the sinking of the Titanic and what caused it - numerous human errors and cock-ups that led to the collision with the iceberg and then led to the ship sinking so fast it was impossible to save everyone.

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

23 comments:

Ursula said...

Not so hasty. Depends how one defines "Act of God". Considering that he made the world one could reasonably put the blame for his creation's stupidity at his doorstep.

U

kylie said...

I knew there was an issue with the steel, I didnt know about the fire but then, thats the point of a cover up.

Ms Scarlet said...

Strangely we all still take risks and cut corners, be it on a large scale or small.... usually to do with saving money.... and when it goes wrong, it goes very wrong!
Sx

Nick said...

Ursula: Ha ha. Then God is also to blame for me causing a multiple pile-up on the motorway. And various other misdemeanours.

Kylie: Even longstanding Titanic historians were unaware of the fire. It was only because one of them spotted what seemed to be scorch marks on the hull that the truth came out.

Scarlet: Very true. And with the present government cutting corners every which way, some dreadful tragedies are occurring. But still the corners are being cut.

Bijoux said...

Every disaster (other than natural) seems to involve a cover-up.

Nick said...

Bijoux: Quite a lot of them do. The routine reaction of organisations involved in a disaster seems to be to deny culpability and blame anyone and everything except themselves. Like the Hillsborough tragedy and the high death rates at Stafford Hospital.

helen devries said...

I saw that programme: good to see a sober discussion of possibilities.

Nick said...

Helen: It was an excellent programme. Very calm and methodical, no wild hysterical claims. But I can tell you, if I was a passenger and I heard about the fire, I would have been off that ship pronto.

tammy j said...

that is so sad.
all for money's sake.
it reminds me of a quote by our astronaut john glenn.

“As I hurtled through space, one thought kept crossing my mind - every part of this rocket was supplied by the lowest bidder.”
― John Glenn

Nick said...

Tammy: What a wonderful quote! And what an alarming thought! So much cost-cutting is a false economy - it might save money in the short term, but in the long term it costs more because of equipment failures, injuries, rectifying mistakes etc.

Dave Martin said...

No doubt there are a million stories of corporate cover-ups, and the Titanic disaster is just the tip of the iceberg. Uh-oh, did I really just say that...?

Nick said...

Dave: The tip of the iceberg indeed! White Star actually claimed that all the firemen had died so couldn't give evidence about the alleged fire. In fact quite a lot of them survived to tell the tale.

Secret Agent Woman said...

The whole "act of God" thing seems silly to me. But even if you want to say somethings (a tornado, say) is an act of God, you still can't put human errors in that category.

John Gray said...

Boiler room fires were common in the liner world of early 1900s
We forget that

Cheerful Monk said...

Act of God? I'm still laughing at a New Yorker cartoon I recently saw. God is looking down at earth, saying, "What have I done?!" Yep, so much for omniscience.

Nick said...

Agent: Absolutely. Saying it was an Act of God is just a way of denying all responsibility for the disaster and the company's general negligence.

John: Really? I didn't know that either. Though in this case the burning coal was actually stacked against the bulkhead and the hull! The bulkhead was said to be red-hot.

Nick said...

Jean: I sometimes imagine the world was created by God when he was blind drunk and had no idea what he was doing. When he finally sobered up, he was horrified but there was no "Cancel" option.

Wisewebwoman said...

I so enjoyed a sci-fi book I read which had God turning her back on the whole sorry lot of us. In total embarrassment, and then moving on to the next new fresh planet to correct her mistakes. Like knitting.

Titanic has always fascinated me too. Mainly because my daughters had a great-great grandaunt who died on it. 16 she was.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

www: I'm fascinated by the way a supposedly "almost unsinkable" and dazzlingly luxurious ship (for the first class passengers, that is) foundered so rapidly as a result of one human error after another.

Hattie said...

An engineer who worked for a manufacturer of steel told me that the steel used in the World Trade Center was not of the best. One wonders about these matters.

Nick said...

Hattie: The more you know about any project whatever, the more you find corners were cut, exhausted workers were making serious mistakes, sub-standard materials were used etc. Probably best not to know anything at all!

Jenny Woolf said...

I am afraid that this kind of thing happens all the time. Sometimes it is rather obvious when people are lying, as it has been in certain political arenas lately. I doubt whether we are being told anything like the truth about the health service, for instance. And isn't it interesting when government papers are opened after many years and we find out what was really going on!

Nick said...

Jenny: Indeed, the cover-ups and misleading reassurances about the NHS are sickening. I'm not sure who're telling the most lies, politicians or big business. Trying to discern the reality behind the thick fog of propaganda is hard work.