• Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

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Could Titanic expedition tragedy impact risky ocean exploration?


The outcome is going to be a total review of the adventure tourist industry”

The first British man to dive the Titanic wreck believes future deep-sea exploration will be shaken up following the tragic deaths of five people in a tourist submersible while trying to reach the world’s most famous ship.

The OceanGate submersible, Titan, submerged on June 18 in the north Atlantic, and after losing contact with her mothership, sparked a frantic four-day search in a bid to locate and save those on board. Passengers – British billionaire Hamish Harding, Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood, his 19-year-old son Suleman, and OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush and the Pilot, French diver Paul-Henri (PH) Nargeolet – lost their lives in what’s been described as a ’catastrophic implosion’.

Dik Barton, a University of Sunderland guest lecturer, knows the underwater terrain better than anyone, having held roles as Vice President (Operations), with RMS Titanic, Inc. working on the TITANIC Project, he was the first Briton to ever dive to the famous wreck and has completed 22 dives to the site.

The former Army Officer and commercial diver, reflects on the aftermath of the tragedy and debates what the future of tourism adventure looks like.

He says: “The tragic and cataclysmic loss of the Titan submersible during the last OceanGate Titanic Expedition, has brought to the world the extraordinary risks that exist in deep sea exploration.

“The obvious and dreadful outcome is the tragic loss of five lives which has raised questions over checks and balances.

“OceanGate Expeditions had the initiative to run “tourist expedition” dives to the wreck of the Titanic for those who could afford it.  The ocean depths of Titanic at 3,840 metres (2.5 miles) presents extraordinary risks and dangers; in fact, just being in the North Atlantic can be treacherous and dangerous.

“Once the Titan submersible had failed to communicate with the mothership, the Polar Prince, sadly, the demise of the Titan and the crew was an already foregone conclusion.  The ensuing international rescue efforts were little short of heroic and a demonstration of the extraordinary ability and capabilities of the respective Coastguards, the US Navy and supporting commercial operators.

“Throughout the ensuing four days the consultants and subject matter experts, through the international media globally, kept the candle of hope glowing, hanging out for some positive outcome.  The stark reality was the Titan is understood to have experienced a cataclysmic structural failure resulting in a devastating implosion and immediate loss of its entire crew.

“The dive profile of the Titan placed it at about 3,600 plus metres on its descending course to the Titanic wreck-site.”

He added: “So, we now face the stark reality of a structured investigation as the wreckage of the Titan is mapped and recovered, and the investigation team which falls to The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), as the Titan was operating off a Canadian flagged vessel out of a Canadian port.  The findings and the outcome of this investigation will significantly dictate the future of deep-sea exploration and particularly the adventure tourist industry.

“The four days of enduring hope took its toll.  I personally was involved with round the clock interviews on radio and television, live and recorded, whilst all the time we knew the true outcome and status.

“During these times as the fallout following the incident continues to gain momentum, there will be numerous self-appointed “experts”, who will air their opinions.  Sadly, the whole subject of Titanic, which is highly emotive at the best of times, and has extremely broad schools of thought, will now be the main focus empowering yet more ‘Titanoracks’ and ‘key board warriors’, to further fuel the fire within the troubled fraternity.  The absolute outcome is going to be a total review and enforcement of regulatory controls and compliance of not only the industry, but more importantly the adventure tourist industry.

“It is said that if you are not pushing the bounds of risk then you are not exploring, and our human nature drives that passion for exploration.  It would be a great shame if this incident were to suppress that passion and fall foul of the rules, regulation, legislation and inherent imposed controls.

“I think the ensuing litigation is a whole other world of pain and it should never be forgotten, the dreadful pain and hurt the families and friends of those lost will endure for many years.”

Dik Barton has a breadth of experience operating globally in corporate level risk management and a particular knowledge of working in the oil & gas and utilities industries operating at ministerial and board room management level, latterly owning and operating his own medical splinting device business.

He managed ‘The Titanic Artefact Collection’ of over 6,500 recovered artefacts, ensuring the logistics of storage and shipping, installation and security at exhibition, supervising the installation and conservation team.

An experienced diver, Dik has worked as an underwater cameraman and the footage been used in numerous documentaries including those produced by the BBC, Channel 4, CBS, History Channel, Discovery and National Geographic.

In addition, he was a consultant on the making of the 1997 movie TITANIC with James Cameron and team and subsequent ongoing documentaries and operations.

Dik, from Cumbria, is now an Innovator and Chief Operating Officer of Sunderland-based ArmaTrex Ltd, a medical device company, which has engineered and designed a unique splinting system, The META, (Medical Emergency Trauma Appliance) utilising expanding foam chemistry, which when applied forms a supporting splint, plus an ingenious rescue stretcher system, the ‘Sletcher’.