Thursday, 6 November 2008

Titanic's chain of errors

A TV programme this week unravelled the amazing chain of errors that led to the supposedly unsinkable Titanic sinking.

It's still often assumed that the collision with the iceberg was just an unlucky accident that nobody could have prevented.

Far from it. A long string of entirely human cock-ups made the loss of the ship and 1517 lives on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in 1912 inevitable. It was a typical tale of carelessness, incompetence, obstinacy and misunderstandings.

The list of failings is mind-boggling:

* Low-grade iron rivets were used instead of tougher ones.
* Iceberg warnings from other ships were either ignored or not seen by senior crew.
* Despite the iceberg warnings, on a poor-visibility, moonless night, the ship didn't stop but continued at its top speed of 21½ knots.
* This was because the captain was determined to reach New York in 6 days.
* The lookouts in the crow's nest had no binoculars.
* The radio operator told the nearest ship, the Californian, not to send any more messages as he was too busy sending messages for passengers.
* When the iceberg was spotted, the ship steered away from it and hit it side-on. If the collision had been head-on, the reinforced bow would have kept it afloat.
* The bulkhead (the height of the watertight lower compartments above the water line) was reduced by four feet to allow for a grander central staircase.

Further human failings led to the huge number of deaths:

* There were only 16 lifeboats because more than that were seen as "too much clutter".
* The lifeboat drill was cancelled so the captain could attend a religious service.
* The order "Women and children first" was misunderstood as "Women and children only".
* Lifeboats were launched although they weren't full.
* There were enough life jackets but they weren't all given out.
* Because of the loss of radio contact with the Californian, the closest ship, many more people died.

How vital it is, when so many human lives are at stake, to make sure everyone does their job properly and conscientiously. It only takes a few foolish mistakes to cause utter carnage.

PS: Sooner or later the Titanic would probably have sunk anyway.

The programme was "The Unsinkable Titanic", Channel 4, November 3 2008. It was repeated on Channel 4 on April 18 2009.


  1. The Titanic has always fascinated me, Nick and it was a serious of catastrophic errors and oversights that caused such an incredible loss of life.
    My ex-husband's great aunt was a passenger who lost her life, heading to New York in steerage with a dream of bettering her life.
    I think the best movie on it is the Kenneth More "A Night to Remember" far superior in my mind to Cameron's blowout effort.
    I also saw the Imax on the wreck itself.
    It is a haunting episode of history, like the Lusitania.
    Here in NL we have two museums dedicated to artifacts and the last radio call which was received here.

  2. I still suspect Celion Dion had a part in it. She bored everyone to death with that god awful rendering "My Heart Will Go On" - I'm not surprised they were jumping overboard.

    On a serious note - horrible avoidable accident and shame about the number of people that died a horrible death

  3. www - The more I read about all the human errors and how avoidable the tragedy was, the more fascinated I become too. It's a very long time since I saw "A Night To Remember"! And though "Titanic" was fun to watch it bore little relation to what actually happened.

    Quicky - Completely preventable, like a lot of other disasters we hear about. We all put a lot of trust in behind-the-scenes competence.

  4. I think I've seen the same progam or similar. The defining factor was the gap above the bulkheads, they just filled with water . .fete accompli. The saddest thing was allowing the wealthy passengers off before steerage immigrants. That bit was true! Of course, most were Irish. It's nice that they've left it where it fell as a memorial. They can only salvage what was scattered beyond the hull. Take a look at James Cameron's doco if you can get it. He took mini subs down there. And actually, I hate Celine Dion's music but I thought THAT song worked really well . .I know, I'm a romantic fool . .'wake up ...wake up . ." *sob*

  5. Baino - I didn't know about the wealthy passengers being taken off first, but I'm hardly surprised. A lot of passengers didn't even realise the ship had struck an iceberg as the collision was so gentle. Quite a few were still asleep.

    A romantic fool? Nothing wrong with that. Jenny says I'm a bit of a slopbag too.

  6. Too bad that the book "Deadly Decisions," by Chris Burns wasn't available for the engineers of the ship to read before building the ship, and setting it loose to set sail. I am confident that if this book had been around, and it had been read, the Titanic never would have sunk :).

  7. Thanks for that, Becky, that not only sheds more light on the Titanic's sinking but includes a brilliant analysis of "false knowledge" and how in today's complex society it's easy to misunderstand so many things.

    I recommend the first chapter (readable online) to anyone interested in how so-called experts make so many fatal decisions and cause so many unncecessary tragedies.

  8. The titanic was designed, built, passengered and operated to be sunk. She was sunk while she carried many of the opponents of the US Federal Reserve Bank which was aborning with much controversy and opposition; opposition by rich powerful people; many of those opponents died on the Titanic.

    Please get a detailed description of the design. Look at all the "mistakes" that were made. These were no mistakes but the cold calculated execution of a plan to eliminate most opposition to the Rothschild et al FED.

    9/11 was the same type of political mass murder by the richest most powerful people running this sorry world.

    Many more "Titanics" and 9/11s are in store for us if we do not wake up; evil is running this poor world and there is NOTHING, think WWIII, that is politically off limits to these evil people.