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One Year After the Loss of the Titan, Accident Investigation Continues

OceanGate Titan
Courtesy OceanGate

Published Jun 18, 2024 9:20 PM by The Maritime Executive

One year after the sinking of the experimental submersible Titan, the U.S. Coast Guard continues to investigate the cause of the small sub's implosion, which killed five passengers on board. 

In a statement Friday, the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation for the Titan tragedy said that it was still working with multiple partner agencies and stakeholders to understand the cause of the casualty. It plans to hold public hearings sometime between August and the end of December, with the date yet to be announced. 

“We’re grateful for the international and interagency cooperation which has been vital in recovering, preserving and forensically testing evidence from a remote offshore region and extreme depth,” said MBI Chair Capt. Jason Neubauer. “The MBI is committed to ensuring that we fully understand the factors that led to this tragedy in order to prevent similar occurrences in the future.” 

On June 18, 2023, the commercially-operated submersible Titan went missing near the RMS Titanic wreck site in the North Atlantic, about 800 nautical miles off Cape Cod. After a four-day search effort, contractors for the U.S. Coast Guard found the debris of the sub on the bottom, along with presumed human remains. The sub had suffered a sudden, catastrophic implosion, killing all five passengers on board. The victims included Stockton Rush, 61, the sub's owner; explorer Hamish Harding, 58; French subsea adventurer Paul-Henri Nargeolet, 77; businessman Shahzada Dawood, 48; and his son Suleman Dawood, 19.

A recovered component from the hull of the Titan (Courtesy USCG)

In the aftermath of the sub's loss, the anchor handler Horizon Arctic and an ROV from Pelagic Research Services scoured the bottom for evidence and recovered debris from the seafloor. The U.S. Coast Guard took custody of the wreckage and the recovered remains.  A vessel and ROV team from Phoenix International returned later in the year to recover the remaining debris.

The complexities facing the MBI investigation include the challenging location, the need to analyze the submarine's unusual carbon-fiber construction, and the jurisdictional questions created by the overlapping interests of five different agencies - the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the U.S. Coast Guard, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The USCG is the lead agency, with assistance from the U.S. Navy for site investigation.

Separately, the Coast Guard has confirmed that a "transcript" of the Titan's last voyage that circulated on social media in 2023 is wholly fake. "I’m confident it’s a false transcript," Neubauer told the New York Times. "Somebody did it well enough to make it look plausible."

The fake transcript does not correspond to the actual comms records that agencies retrieved from Titan's mother ship, the Canadian vessel Polar Prince. The legitimate communications logs are confidential, at least until the end of the MBI's inquiry.