Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Current condition of the wreck
Many scientists, including Robert
Ballard, are concerned that visits
by tourists in submersibles and
the recovery of artefacts are
hastening the decay of the
wreck. Underwater microbes
have been eating away at
Titanic's steel since the ship sank,
but because of the extra damage
caused by visitors the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric
estimates that "the hull and
structure of the ship may
collapse to the ocean floor
within the next 50 years."[103]
Ballard's book Return to Titanic,
published by the National
Geographic Society, includes
photographs depicting the
deterioration of the promenade
deck and damage caused by
submersibles landing on the ship.
The mast has almost completely
deteriorated and has been
stripped of its bell and brass
light. Other damage includes a
gash on the bow section where
block letters once spelled Titanic,
part of the brass telemotor
which once held the ship's
wooden wheel is now twisted
and the crow's nest has
completely deteriorated.[105]
The bacterium Halomonas
titanicae, as described in the
December 2010 issue of the
International Journal of
Systematic and Evolutionary
, has been isolated from rusticles
on the remains of the Titanic.
[106] The metabolic processes of
this bacterium have been shown
to cause rapid degradation of
the wreckage. Dr. Henrietta
Mann, co-discoverer of the
bacterium, said, "In 1995, I was
predicting that Titanic had
another 30 years . . . But I think
it's deteriorating much faster
than that now. Eventually there
will be nothing left but a rust
Ownership and litigation
Titanic's rediscovery in 1985
launched a debate over
ownership of the wreck and the
valuable items inside. On 7 June
1994 RMS Titanic Inc., a
subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions
Inc., was awarded ownership and
salvaging rights by the United
States District Court for the
Eastern District of Virginia
.[108] (See Admiralty law)[109]
Since 1987, RMS Titanic Inc. and
her successors have conducted
seven expeditions and salvaged
over 5,500 historic objects. The
biggest single recovered object
was a 17-ton section of the hull,
recovered in 1998.[110] Many of
these items are part of travelling
museum exhibitions.
In 1993, a French administrator
in the Office of Maritime Affairs
of the Ministry of Equipment,
Transportation, and Tourism
awarded RMS Titanic Inc.'s
predecessor title to the relics
recovered in 1987.[111]
In a motion filed on 12 February
2004, RMS Titanic Inc. requested
that the district court enter an
order awarding it "title to all the
artifacts (including portions of
the hull) which are the subject of
this action pursuant to the Law
of Finds" or, in the alternative, a
salvage award in the amount of
$225 million. RMS Titanic Inc.
excluded from its motion any
claim for an award of title to the
objects recovered in 1987, but it
did request that the district court
declare that, based on the
French administrative action,
"the artifacts raised during the
1987 expedition are
independently owned by RMST."
Following a hearing, the district
court entered an order dated 2
July 2004, in which it refused to
grant comity and recognise the
1993 decision of the French
administrator, and rejected RMS
Titanic Inc.'s claim that it should
be awarded title to the items
recovered since 1993 under the
Maritime Law of Finds.[112]
RMS Titanic Inc. appealed to the
United States Court of Appeals
for the Fourth Circuit
. In its decision of 31 January
2006[113] the court recognised
"explicitly the appropriateness of
applying maritime salvage law to
historic wrecks such as that of
Titanic" and denied the
application of the Maritime Law
of Finds. The court also ruled
that the district court lacked
jurisdiction over the "1987
artifacts", and therefore vacated
that part of the court's 2 July
2004 order. In other words,
according to this decision, RMS
Titanic Inc. has ownership title to
the objects awarded in the
French decision (valued $16.5
million earlier) and continues to
be salver-in-possession of the
Titanic wreck. The Court of
Appeals remanded the case to
the District Court to determine
the salvage award ($225 million
requested by RMS Titanic Inc.).
On 24 March 2009, it was
revealed that the fate of 5,900
artefacts retrieved from the
wreck will rest with a US District
Judge's decision.[115] The ruling
will decide whether the artefacts
should be placed in a public
exhibit or in the hands of private
collectors. The judge will also
rule on the RMS Titanic Inc.'s
degree of ownership of the
wreck as well as establishing a
monitoring system to check
future activity upon the wreck
site.[116] On 12 August 2010,
Judge Rebecca Beach Smith
granted RMS Titanic, Inc. fair
market value for the artefacts,
but says that it may take another
year to decide how that award
will be paid.[117]
Possible factors in the sinking
The iceberg buckled Titanic's
hull, allowing water to flow into
the ship.
It is well established that the
sinking of Titanic was the result
of an iceberg collision, which
fatally punctured the ship's five
forwardmost watertight
compartments. Less obvious,
however, are the reasons for the
collision itself (which occurred on
a clear night, and after the ship
had received numerous ice
warnings), the factors underlying
the sheer extent of the damage
sustained by the ship, and the
reasons for the extreme loss of
Construction and metallurgy
Originally, historians thought the
iceberg had cut a gash into
Titanic's hull. Since the part of
the ship that the iceberg
damaged is now buried, scientists
used sonar to examine the area
and discovered the iceberg had
caused the hull to buckle,
allowing water to enter Titanic
between her steel plates.[118]
The steel plate used for Titanic's
hull was of 1 to 1½ inch (2.5 to
3.8 cm) thickness.[119] A detailed
analysis of small pieces of the
steel plating from Titanic found
that it was of a metallurgy that
loses its ductility and becomes
brittle in cold or icy water,
leaving it vulnerable to dent-
induced ruptures. The pieces of
steel were found to have very
high content of phosphorus and
sulphur (4× and 2× respectively,
compared with modern steel),
with manganese-sulphur ratio of
6.8:1 (compared with over 200:1
ratio for modern steels). High
content of phosphorus initiates
fractures, sulphur forms grains
of iron sulphide that facilitate
propagation of cracks, and lack
of manganese makes the steel
less ductile. The recovered
samples were found to be
undergoing ductile-brittle
transition in temperatures of 90
°F (32 °C) for longitudinal
samples and 133 °F (56 °C) for
transversal samples, compared
with transition temperature of
− 17 °F (−27 °C) common for
modern steels: modern steel
would only become so brittle in
between −76 °F and −94 °F (−60
°C and −70 °C). Titanic's steel,
although "probably the best
plain carbon ship plate available
at the time", was thus unsuitable
for use at low temperatures.
[120] The anisotropy was
probably caused by hot rolling
influencing the orientation of the
sulphide stringer inclusions. The
steel plate for Titanic was
supplied by David Colville & Sons
using acid-lined, open hearth
furnaces at their Dalzell Steel
and Iron Works in Motherwell
near Glasgow, which would
explain the high content of
phosphorus and sulphur, even
for the time.[120][121] But it
seems highly probable that this
brittle steel sample used for the
analysis above was not all
representative for the ship as it
was a fractured part out of the
debris field, probably making it a
"self-selected" sample of worst
quality.[122] Newer analysis,
using slow bend tests on six hull
samples at room temperature
and at 0°C, suggest that Titanic's
hull steel was by no means a
brittle material, even at ice-brine
Another factor was the rivets
holding the hull together, which
were much more fragile than
once thought.[121][123] From 48
rivets recovered from the hull of
Titanic, scientists found many to
be riddled with high
concentrations of slag. A glassy
residue of smelting, slag can
make rivets brittle and prone to
fracture. Records from the
archive of the builder show that
the ship's builder ordered No. 3
iron bar, known as "best "—not
No. 4, known as "best-best", for
its rivets, although shipbuilders at
that time typically used No. 4
iron for rivets. Rivets of "best
best" iron had a tensile strength
of approximately 80% of steel's;
"best" iron was only around 73%.
[124] The company also had
shortages of skilled riveters,
particularly important for hand
riveting, which took great skill:
the iron had to be heated to a
precise colour and shaped by
the right combination of hammer
blows. The company used steel
rivets, which were stronger and
could be installed by machine,
on the central hull, where
stresses were expected to be
greatest, using iron rivets for the
stern and bow.[121] Despite this,
the most extensive and finally
fatal damage the Titanic
sustained, at boiler rooms No. 5
and 6, was done in an area
where steel rivets were used.
Rudder construction and
turning ability
View of the stern and rudder of
RMS Olympic in dry-dock. The
man in the shot gives scale.[126]
Although Titanic's rudder met
the mandated dimensional
requirements for a ship her size,
the rudder's design might not
have reflected contemporary
design standards. According to
research by BBC History: "Her
stern, with its high graceful
counter and long thin rudder,
was an exact copy of an 18th-
century sailing ship... a perfect
example of the lack of technical
development. Compared with
the rudder design of the
Cunarders, Titanic's was a
fraction of the size. No account
was made for advances in scale
and little thought was given to
how a ship, 852 feet in length,
[sic][127] might turn in an
emergency or avoid collision with
an iceberg. This was Titanic's
Achilles heel."[127] A more
objective assessment of the
rudder provision compares it
with the legal requirement of the
time: the area had to be within a
range of 1.5% and 5% of the
hull's underwater profile and, at
1.9%, Titanic was at the low end
of the range. However, the tall
rudder design was more effective
at the vessel's designed cruising
speed; short, square rudders
were more suitable for low-
speed manoeuvring.[128] In
fairness to the Harland & Wolff
designers and a challenge to the
speculative theory that the
rudder was ineffective, can be
related an incident that
happened on the Olympic in
1918 during World War One.
The Olympic using the same
semi-oval shaped rudder as
Titanic's was able to turn in a
virtual moment's notice to avoid
an enemy submarine and in turn
chase down the opposing
submarine, ram it and sink it.
Perhaps more fatal to the design
of Titanic was her triple screw
engine configuration, which had
reciprocating steam engines
driving her wing propellers, and
a steam turbine driving her
centre propeller. The
reciprocating engines were
reversible, while the turbine was
not. According to subsequent
evidence from Fourth Officer
Joseph Boxhall, who entered the
bridge just after the collision,
First Officer Murdoch had set
the engine room telegraph to
reverse the engines to avoid the
iceberg,[44] thus handicapping
the turning ability of the ship.
Because the centre turbine could
not reverse during the "full
speed astern" manoeuvre, it was
simply stopped. Since the centre
propeller was positioned forward
of the ship's rudder, the
effectiveness of that rudder
would have been greatly
reduced: had Murdoch simply
turned the ship while maintaining
her forward speed, Titanic might
have missed the iceberg with
metres to spare.[129] Another
survivor, Frederick Scott, an
engine room worker, gave
contrary evidence: he recalled
that at his station in the engine
room all four sets of telegraphs
had changed to "Stop", but not
until after the collision.[45]
Orientation of impact
It has been speculated that the
ship could have been saved if
she had rammed the iceberg
head on.[130][131] It is
hypothesised that if Titanic had
not altered her course at all and
instead collided head first with
the iceberg, the impact would
have been taken by the naturally
stronger bow and damage would
have affected only one or two
forward compartments.[132] This
would have disabled her, and
possibly caused casualties among
the passengers near the bow,
but probably would not have
resulted in sinking since Titanic
was designed to float with the
first four compartments flooded.
Instead, the glancing blow to the
starboard side caused buckling in
the hull plates along the first five
compartments, more than the
ship's designers had anticipated.
The weather for the Atlantic at
the time of the collision was
unusual because there was a flat
calm sea, without wind or swell.
In addition, it was a moonless
night. Under normal sea
conditions in the area of the
collision, waves would have
broken over the base of an
iceberg, assisting in the location
of icebergs even on a moonless
night. The temperature dropped
from about 43° Fahrenheit (6°
Celsius) to near freezing, giving
difficulty for the lookouts. The
northwest winds behind the
front helped to steer a giant ice
field toward the ships.[133]
Excessive speed
The conclusion of the British
Inquiry into the sinking was “that
the loss of the said ship was due
to collision with an iceberg,
brought about by the excessive
speed at which the ship was
being navigated ”. At the time of
the collision it is thought that
Titanic was at her normal
cruising speed of about 21 knots
(39 km/h), which was less than
her top speed of around 23
knots (43 km/h). At the time it
was common (but not universal)
practice to maintain normal
speed in areas where icebergs
were expected. It was thought
that any iceberg large enough to
damage the ship would be seen
in sufficient time to be avoided. It
is often alleged that J. Bruce
Ismay instructed or encouraged
Captain Smith to increase speed
in order to make an early
landfall, and it is a common
feature in popular
representations of the disaster,
such as the 1997 film, Titanic.
[134] There is little evidence for
this having happened, and it is
disputed by many.[135][136]
Alternative theories
Main article: Titanic alternative
A number of alternative theories
diverging from the standard
explanation for Titanic's demise
have been brought forth since
shortly after the sinking. Some of
these include a coal fire aboard
ship,[137] or Titanic hitting pack
ice rather than an iceberg.[138]
[139] In the realm of the
supernatural, it has been
proposed that Titanic sank due
to a mummy's curse.[140]
Insufficient lifeboats
Survivors aboard a collapsible
lifeboat, viewed from Carpathia.
No single aspect regarding the
huge loss of life from Titanic has
provoked more outrage than the
fact that the ship did not carry
enough lifeboats for all her
passengers and crew. The most
recent law, dating from 1894,
required a minimum of 16
lifeboats for ships of over 10,000
tons. This law had been
established when the largest ship
afloat was the 12,950-ton RMS
Lucania. Since then, the size of
ships had increased rapidly
without a corresponding increase
in lifeboat requirements, with a
result that the 52,310-ton Titanic
was legally required to carry only
enough lifeboats for less than
half of her capacity. The White
Star Line actually exceeded the
regulations by including four
more collapsible lifeboats,
providing a total capacity of
1,178 people (still only around a
third of Titanic's total capacity of
In the event of a serious accident
in the busy North Atlantic sea
lanes, assistance from other
vessels was assumed to be close
at hand. In this case, the
lifeboats would be used to ferry
passengers and crew from the
stricken vessel to its rescuers.
Full provision of lifeboats on the
ship was considered unnecessary
to support this activity.[20]
During design of the ship, it was
anticipated that the British Board
of Trade might require an
increase in the number of
lifeboats at some future date.
Therefore, lifeboat davits capable
of handling up to four boats per
pair of davits were designed and
installed, to give a total potential
capacity of 64 boats.[141] The
additional boats were never
fitted. It is often alleged that J.
Bruce Ismay, the President of
White Star, vetoed the
installation of these additional
boats to maximise the passenger
promenade area on the boat
deck. Harold Sanderson, Vice
President of International
Mercantile Marine, rejected this
allegation during the British
The delay in launching lifeboats
was also a factor. After the
collision with the iceberg, one
hour was taken to evaluate the
damage, recognise what was
going to happen, inform first
class passengers, and lower the
first lifeboat. Afterward, the crew
worked efficiently, taking a total
of 80 minutes to lower all 16
lifeboats. Since the crew were
divided into two teams, one on
each side of the ship, an average
of 10 minutes of work was
necessary for a team to fill a
lifeboat with passengers and
lower it.[20]
The initial reluctance of the
passengers to board the lifeboats
contributed to the death toll. For
example, Lifeboat #7 launched
first, at 00:40 and with only 12
people aboard, despite its
capacity of 40. Titanic did not
initially appear to passengers to
be in imminent danger, so they
were reluctant to leave the
apparent safety of the ship. The
idea that the ship was unsinkable
is not likely to have contributed
to the low utilization of the early
life boats.[20]

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