US Navy acoustic system detected Titan sub’s likely implosion

Titan sub believed to have suffered ‘catastrophic’ implosion that US Navy acoustic detection picked up on Sunday.

A top secret United States Navy acoustic detection system picked up a sound “anomaly” in the North Atlantic that was likely the fatal implosion of the Titan submersible that was lost with five people on board while on an expedition to the wreck of the Titanic.

According to a senior military official, the Navy went back and analysed acoustic data after the Titan submersible was reported missing on Sunday and found an anomaly “consistent with an implosion or explosion in the general vicinity of where the Titan submersible was operating when communications were lost”.

The Navy passed the information on to the US Coast Guard, which continued its search for the Titan because the Navy did not consider the data to be definitive, the senior Navy official told the Associated Press news agency on Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the Navy’s involvement and the detection of the acoustics from the deep sea, the latest piece in the jigsaw regarding the fate of the Titan and its five occupants following the discovery of debris on Thursday that was consistent with the missing vessel operated by OceanGate Expeditions.

A remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) found five major fragments of the 6.7-metre (22-foot) Titan submarine in a debris field on the seabed some 488 metres (1,600ft) from the bow of the wreck of the Titanic, which rests 4km (around 2.5 miles) beneath the surface of the ocean, in a remote corner of the North Atlantic, US Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger told reporters.

“The debris field here is consistent with a catastrophic implosion of the vehicle,” Mauger said.

The fragments found included the Titan’s tail cone and two sections of the pressure hull.

No mention has been made of whether human remains were sighted.

The five on board the Titan were OceanGate’s founder and chief executive officer Stockton Rush, who was piloting the vessel; a United Kingdom billionaire businessman and explorer Hamish Harding, 58; Pakistani-born businessman Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his 19-year-old son, Suleman, both UK citizens; and French oceanographer and renowned Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet, 77, who had visited the wreck dozens of times.

Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from Boston in the US, said the US Navy was now collecting debris in order to analyse what remained of the Titan as part of a wider investigation into how the accident occurred.

According to Elizondo, the US Navy confirmed on Thursday evening that “a top-secret acoustic detection system” had picked up sounds “similar to what would have been an implosion on Sunday near where the Titan went missing”.

With the fate of the Titan and those on board now known, attention has turned to the Titan’s safety record and its suitability for ferrying tourists to the Titanic wreck site.

Director of the Hollywood blockbuster “Titanic” and renowned deepsea explorer James Cameron said many warnings were ignored about the safety of the Titan.

Cameron said the submersible had been the source of widespread concern in the close-knit ocean exploration community. He equated the warning around the Titan with those of warnings issued to the captain of the Titanic more than a century ago.

“I’m struck by the similarity of the Titanic disaster itself, where the captain was repeatedly warned about ice ahead of his ship, and yet he steamed at full speed into an ice field on a moonless night, and many people died as a result,” Cameron told ABC News.

“And for a very similar tragedy, where warnings went unheeded, to take place at the same exact site … I think it’s just astonishing,” he said.

Cameron – who in 2012 became the first person to make a solo dive to the very deepest part of the ocean in a submersible he designed and built – said the risk of a sub imploding under pressure was always “first and foremost” in engineers’ minds.

“Many people in the community were very concerned about this sub,” he said of the ill-fated Titan.

“A number of the top players in the deep-submergence engineering community even wrote letters to the company, saying that what they were doing was too experimental to carry passengers and that it needed to be certified,” he said,

The Reuters news agency reported on Thursday that liability waivers signed by passengers on the Titan may not shield the vessel’s owner from potential lawsuits by the victims’ families.

The passengers, who paid as much as $250,000 each for the journey to 3,810 metres (12,500ft) below the surface, are believed to have signed liability waivers that mentioned the possibility of death three times on the first page alone.

Waivers are not always ironclad, and it is not uncommon for judges to reject them if there is evidence of gross negligence or hazards that were not fully disclosed, legal experts told Reuters.

“If there were aspects of the design or construction of this vessel that were kept from the passengers or it was knowingly operated despite information that it was not suitable for this dive, that would absolutely go against the validity of the waiver,” said personal injury lawyer and maritime law expert Matthew D Shaffer, who is based in Texas.

The degree of any potential negligence and how that might impact the applicability of the waivers will depend on the causes of the disaster, which are still under investigation.

OceanGate is a small company based in Everett, Washington, and it is unclear whether it has the assets to pay significant damages, were any to be awarded, but families could collect from the company’s insurance policy if it has one.

Families could also seek damages from any outside parties that designed, helped build or made components for the Titan if they were found to be negligent and a cause of the implosion.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies