Professionalism/The Sinking of the Titanic
The RMS Titanic left Southampton, England on April 10, 1912 for New York City. The ship sank on April 14, resulting in the death of 1,500 people. This infamous disaster and enormous loss of life was the result of multiple poor ethical decisions that were made months before the ship set sail during its construction, in the hours leading up to the collision, and during the sinking itself.
The Titanic was built for the White Star Line by Harland and Wolff of Belfast. Weighing close to 47,000 tons, she cost about 1.5 billion pounds to build and had 8 triple expansion engines, with steam supplied by 159 furnaces. The hull was divided into 16 supposedly watertight compartments. The amenities on board the Titanic were extravagant and included a swimming pool, three electric elevators, a gymnasium, and a Turkish bath.
Before leaving for Europe to take command of the ship for her voyage, the Captain of the Titanic, Edward John Smith, was overconfident and said at a dinner he had the “utmost confidence in her seagoing qualities…[it is] impossible for her to sink". Captain Smith regarded the vessel as one that would keep above water even in the most unexpected trials at sea, and had no doubt she would reach port if seriously damaged.
When the Titanic hit the iceberg, the five forward compartments flooded immediately. Due to the non-watertight nature of the deck, the water overflowed onto the deck and proceeded to flood the remaining compartments until the entire hull was flooded. Thus, the supposedly watertight compartments were concluded to not be watertight.
The Titanic was an emigrant ship and had to get approval of her sea-worthiness. After construction was complete, this consisted of trial tests where the ship was steamed around the port, a few turning circles made, and her compasses adjusted. While rather inadequate, this was deemed sufficient and the Titanic received approval. This lack of testing was highly criticized, in particular by Naval Constructor David W. Taylor. Taylor emphasized the need for proper inspection by competent authorities for liners such as the Titanic, and compared to the extensive testing Navy ships are subjected to which consisted of filling the compartments above the water line to determine whether they are in fact watertight. If not for the faulty compartments, the Titanic should have stayed afloat long enough to reach port rather than the meager 5 hours the ship had to evacuate.
Only 20 boats were on board the Titanic, allowing for a total capacity of 1,176 persons, and this fulfilled the British Board of Trade requirements. The Board of Trade requirements were severely outdated at the time; for a ship 10,000 tons or over the minimum number of boats required on board was 16. The law regarded 10,000-ton boats as the maximum weight, but at 47,000 tons the Titanic was significantly over this limit but still only needed to abide by this guidelines.
Chief Designer at Harland and Wolff, Alexander Carlisle, admitted that “she ought to have had 50 lifeboats instead of 20,” but the reason given by the owners of the Titanic was that they could not afford to add to the top-weight of the vessel. Safety was evidently not a high priority.
Luxury over SafetyEdit
With the sinking of the Titanic, many began to question the apparent prioritization of luxury over safety with the design of passenger liners. In the New York Times on April 17, 1912, the article “Luxury Blamed for Wreck by Engineer” featured Naval Engineer E. K. Roden who emphasized this as a serious fault in the design of modern steamships. Roden proceeded to state that the public says little attention to safety measures, instead assuming the steamship company is doing everything possible to ensure the safety of all its passengers. Unfortunately in the case of the Titanic, many individuals had to pay the price with their lives for the lack of prioritization of safety.
Day of the SinkingEdit
The day of the sinking, the Titanic was going a speed of 22.5 knots, or 25.9 miles per hour; the maximum speed of the ship was 23 knots (26.5 mph). The average over the entire course of the trip was approximately 20 knots. In comparison, other nearby ships including the Californian and the Mount Temple were averaging 11 knots in an effort to avoid ice collisions There is no definitive reason why the ship was going so fast in an icy region of the Atlantic Ocean, but many speculate that Captain Smith was attempting to beat the Titanic's sister ship Olympic's record for fastest time across the Atlantic. Another possibility is that in efforts to manage a fire in the coal bunker, the coal was moved into the boiler and ship subsequently had to go faster. Ultimately, the ship was not designed for such speeds as it was a liner built for comfort, and this likely contributed to the collision and rapid sinking.
On April 14, the Titanic received ice warnings from six different ships in the vicinity (see table below). Captain Smith was only shown and responded to those from the Caronia, the Noordam, and the Baltic. In response to the Baltic, Captain Smith sent “Thanks for your message and good wishes; had fine weather since leaving. - Smith”. This is representative of prior responses as well - that there appeared to be good weather and conditions. This type of response implies that the Captain was not worried about ice.
The most urgent ice warnings came later in the evening from the Mesaba and the Californian. Prior to the Californian's message, at 10:33 pm she came to a full stop because of a field of pack ice directly in her path. In response to radio operator of the Californian, Cyril Evan's, message, Jack Phillips, the Titanic's operator on duty at the time, responded with "Shut up! Shut up! I'm working Cape Race". Cape Race is the wireless station what was relaying messages from passengers to New York City. At the time, the primary job of the wireless officers was to relay messages for passengers rather than for the crew, as they were employed by the Marconi Company rather than by White Star Line. This left no open emergency communication channel for the crew to access.
|Ship||Time of Warning|
During the SinkingEdit
Port Around ManeuverEdit
In an attempt to avoid the iceberg collision last minute, the engines were reversed in order to first maneuver the bow around the iceberg followed by the stern. In 2010 it was revealed that Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the White Star Line, allegedly ordered "slow ahead" instead, believing the ship to be unsinkable.
The failure of the crew to fully board the lifeboats during the sinking resulted in an enormous loss of life. The lifeboats rescued only 705 people, with some leaving below 50% capacity. Lack of direction and competent leadership was a primary factor in the insufficient evacuation measures.
“There was no system adopted for loading the boats; there was great indecision as to the deck from which boats were to be loaded; there was wide diversity of opinion as to the number of the crew necessary to man each boat; there was no direction whatever as to the number of passengers to be carried by each boat, and no uniformity in loading them”.
The majority of victims were third-class passengers. Captain Smith never sounded a general alarm, resulting in many third-class passengers being unaware of the situation until it was too late. Some third-class passengers had a hard time getting through the "maze of corridors and staircases" to the top deck in time. Neshan Krekorian was a third-class passenger whose grandson claimed Krekorian “had to break a chain lock to get up to the upper decks”. However, the British investigators found “that allegations that third class passengers were locked below decks were false. Evidence given at the inquiry did suggest that initially some of the gates blocked the way of steerage passengers as stewards waited for instructions and that they were then opened, but only after most of the lifeboats had launched". After they were launched, lifeboats did not return promptly to collect more people because they did not want passengers to swarm and capsize the lifeboats. Eventually the lifeboats did return but by then it was too late.
The SS CalifornianEdit
At the time of the incident, the Californian was close enough to the ship to have saved a large number of people from the water. Crew members saw the distress flares from the Titanic and notified their captain, Captain Stanley Lord. “Instead of ordering the ship’s wireless operator to turn on the radio, Lord instead told the men to continue to use the Morse lamp". After a while, the crew members thought the ship had sailed away. The U.S. investigative committee concluded that Californian's officers and crew "saw the distress signals of the Titanic and failed to respond to them in accordance with the dictates of humanity, international usage, and the requirements of law" and that "such conduct, whether arising from indifference or gross carelessness, is most reprehensible, and places upon the commander of the Californian a grave responsibility”.
Titanic Hearings and InvestigationEdit
Both the U.S. and Great Britain performed independent investigations; the U.S. investigation investigated 82 witnesses. White Star Line held limited liability unless claimants could prove that the captain or crew made an error that the company was aware of. Individuals built a case around the Titanic’s speed, failure to post additional lookouts with binoculars, and failure to properly train the crew. However, “A final decree, signed by Judge Julius M. Mayer in July 1916, held the company guiltless”.
New Laws and RegulationsEdit
Both investigative teams recommended new safety provisions. The U.S. Investigation Committee recommended that they “require sufficient lifeboats to accommodate every passenger and every member of the crew", that "all members of the crew assigned to lifeboats should be drilled in lowering and rowing the boats," and that passengers and crew are assigned to lifeboats before sailing. The International Conference for Safety of Life at Sea met for the first time in 1913 to create rules out of these recommendations. The International Ice Patrol was also established, an organization whereby “13 nations support a branch of the U.S. Coast Guard that scouts for the presence of icebergs”.
Overall, over-confidence during ship construction and an unwillingness to question authority were the driving factors behind the disaster of the Titanic. Luxury was evidently prioritized in the building of the ship, while safety measures, including testing and equipment on board, were neglected. Reckless decisions were made by the captain and members of the crew in the days leading up to the incident such as speeding and ignoring ice warnings. During the sinking, inaction by Captain Smith resulted in inefficient boarding of the lifeboats and the death of many third-class passengers. Captain Stanley Lord’s inaction took any last chance of survival away from the passengers left in the water. This inaction combined with a “fog of war” derailed possible solutions to solvable problems. The phrase "fog of war" describes a phenomenon whereby information becomes confusing in the midst of an emergency. The sinking of the Titanic demonstrates a universal principle that must be considered during ethical decisions; during an emergency, confusion easily gets in the way, even in solvable situations.
- Tikkanen, A. (October 13, 2019). Titanic. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Titanic
- National Archives. (2012, March). Titanic. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/titanic/
- Cronan, James. (2011, January). Titanic: The Official Story. Archives Media Player. https://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php/titanic-the-official-story/
- FELT SURE OF HIS SHIP.: CAPT. SMITH DID NOT BELIEVE THAT THE TITANIC COULD SINK. (1912, Apr 18). The Washington Post (1877-1922). http://proxy01.its.virginia.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy01.its.virginia.edu/docview/145159197?accountid=14678
- U.S. Senate. (1912). “Titanic” Disaster Report. Washington: Government Printing Office. https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/TitanicReport.pdf
- Special to The New York Times. (1912, Apr 16). BULKHEADS AT FAULT, SAYS NAVAL EXPERT: IF TITANIC STAYED UP FIVE HOURS IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE TO SAVE HER. CRITICISES PRIVATE TESTS IT IS EASY TO BUILD SAFE SHIPS, SAYS CONSTRUCTOR TAYLOR, AND PROPER INSPECTION WOULD PREVENT DISASTERS. New York Times (1857-1922). http://proxy01.its.virginia.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy01.its.virginia.edu/docview/97349528?accountid=14678
- LINERS AND SAFETY APPLIANCES: THE QUESTION OF LIFE .BOATS. (1912, Apr 18). The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959). http://proxy01.its.virginia.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy01.its.virginia.edu/docview/475429516?accountid=14678
- Special Cable to THE NEW YORK TIMES. (1912, Apr 17). BOATS FAR TOO FEW, SAYS SHIP'S DESIGNER: TITANIC CARRIED MORE THAN REQUIRED, DECLARES CARLISLE, BUT NEEDED FIFTY. PRESENT LAW INADEQUATE UNTIL REQUIREMENTS ARE RAISED, HE ASSERTS, COMPANIES CANNOT AFFORD TO ADD TO THE TOPWEIGHT. New York Times (1857-1922). http://proxy01.its.virginia.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy01.its.virginia.edu/docview/97275933?accountid=14678
- LUXURY BLAMED FOR WRECK BY ENGINEER: NAVAL AUTHORITY DECLARES SAFETY IS SACRIFICED TO COMFORT IN MODERN SHIPS. ARE NOT ENOUGH LIFEBOATS E.K. RODEN, WRITING IN THE NAVY, FURTHER SAYS THERE ARE NO ABSOLUTELY "UNSINKABLE SHIPS.". (1912, Apr 17). New York Times (1857-1922). http://proxy01.its.virginia.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy01.its.virginia.edu/docview/97264791?accountid=14678
- Halpern, Samuel, 'The Mystery of Time', THS The Titanic Communicator, Vol. 31, Nos 178 and 180.
- Lord, Stanley. American Inquiry, pg 715.
- Moore, James H. American Inquiry, pg. 783.
- Geological Society Of America. (2004, November 11). Titanic Disaster: New Theory Fingers Coal Fire. ScienceDaily.
- Booth, J., & Coughlan, S. (1993). Titanic - Signals of Disaster. Westbury: White Star.
- Turnbull, George E. British Inquiry 16097-16099.
- Lord, Stanley. British Inquiry 6702-6704.
- Evans, Cyril F. British Inquiry 8990.
- Barczewski, Stephanie (2006). Titanic: A Night Remembered. A&C Black. pp. 132–33
- Patten, Louise (2010). Good as Gold. Quercus Publishing.
- Titanic Disaster. (May, 1912). Report 806. Committee on Commerce. Senate. S. RES. 283. Cong-sess 62. From https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/TitanicReport.pdf
- Waites, R. (2012, April 5). Five Titanic myths spread by films. Retrieved March 15, 202AD, from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17515305
- Sindelar, D. (2012, April 13). From The Turks To The 'Titanic:' One Armenian's Fateful Escape. Retrieved March 20, 2020, from https://www.rferl.org/a/armenian_escape_from_ottoman_turkey_titanic/24547029.html
- Gavin, A., & Zarr, C. (2012). They Said it Couldn't Sink. Prologue Magazine, 44(1). https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2012/spring/titanic.html
- Fog of War. (2020, April 17). Retrieved from https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fog-war