OceanGate's cost-saving measures during the construction of the Titan tourist submersible, such as using a smaller mothership and skipping proper testing and certifications, may have contributed to its catastrophic implosion. The sub was dragged by the mothership for three days, resulting in rough handling. This compromised the vessel's stability and safety, potentially endangering future expeditions to view the Titanic wreckage.
Unlike OceanGate's Titan submersible, Alvin follows industry standards and travels to dive sites on a dedicated mothership equipped with custom winches, hangars, and a machine shop. The sub is lowered into the ocean using a large crane. The Titan's unconventional design, with a narrow and short hull shaped like a pill, deviated from the standard spherical shape preferred for deep-sea voyages. This design choice may have been driven by the desire to accommodate more passengers at a high price point of $250,000 per person. OceanGate did not address concerns about potential damage caused by towing the sub for long distances when questioned by the New York Times.
The Titan submersible's central cylinder was constructed using carbon fiber instead of the industry-standard titanium. This resulted in several joints between different materials, which experts believe could have compromised the vessel's integrity under high water pressures. The use of carbon fiber instead of titanium was a surprising choice, as carbon fiber compresses more quickly than titanium. Additionally, OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush chose to skip standard testing and inspections by reputable marine organizations, believing that obtaining certification would hinder innovation. Rush acknowledged breaking rules by combining carbon fiber and titanium, stating that he wanted to be remembered for pushing boundaries.
Rush, who wanted to turn the vessel into a tool for deep-sea mining — a controversial practice of harvesting minerals from the ocean floor, said during a 2017 interview that using the sub to view the Titanic's wreckage was a means to prove his vessel's design.
"The long-term value is in the commercial side. Adventure tourism is a way to monetize the process of proving the technology," he told Fast Company. "The Titanic is where we go from startup to ongoing business."
Kedar Kirane, a mechanical engineer with expertise in damage, fracture and fatigue in fiber-reinforced composites, told the paper that if he were crafting a submersible, testing the vessel and obtaining certification would be his top priority.
"I would probably emphasize the actual testing itself because that's very critical," he said. "Safety is at stake, so before actually using it in a real-world application, I would make sure it passes all the certification required and a lot of experiments."
On June 18, the Titan imploded during its dive to the famed ocean liner's wreckage, killing Rush, 61, British billionaire Hamish Harding, 58, French Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet, 77, prominent Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his 19-year-old son, Sulaiman Dawood.