titanic departs southampton

The Titanic, named for the Titans, or god-giants of Greek mythology, was the largest (269 m), most luxurious ocean liner to its time. It was touted to be unsinkable, but it struck an iceberg just before midnight on April 14, 1912, on the fifth day of its maiden voyage, and sank in 2 hours, 40 minutes, with the loss of 1513-1522 lives, including the captain and Canadian railway tycoon Charles Melville Hays.

Lack of adequate lifeboat space, poor evacuation procedures and slowness of response to distress signals resulted in new mandatory safety rules and the formation of the International Ice Patrol. Many novels, including one from the viewpoint of the iceberg by Canadian oceanographer-ornithologist R.G.B. Brown, and the musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown, were inspired by the tragedy, as was E.J. Pratt‘s long narrative poem of the same name. There have been several documentaries and movies of the story, including Canadian director James Cameron‘s Titanic, which was a blockbuster hit in 1997.

titanic-poster

A White Star Line poster advertising the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic (public domain).

After numerous attempts to find the Titanic, a United States-French expedition culminated in the discovery of the wreck on 1 September 1985, 73 years after its sinking, 590 km southeast of Newfoundland at 3810 m depth in an undersea canyon. Four days of unmanned dives with sophisticated camera and diving equipment followed by 11 manned dives a year later, showed extensive rust in stalactite-like “rusticles,” deterioration of wood by shipworms and colonization by sea life, but many artifacts intact. Research showed that an alleged 91 m gash did not exist, but the ship had split in two and hull and stern were 549 m apart.

Titanic exploration allowed scientists to test sophisticated submersible sonar and camera equipment developed by numerous researchers, including Canadian Joseph MacInnis, who also took part in the expedition in 1987 in which a container was salvaged from the wreck. Salvage efforts have continued subsequently. The most newsworthy of these was the 1998 expedition in which a section of the hull and a gangway door were retrieved.

Joseph MacInnis and Jeff MacInnis. Joseph has participated in many diving expeditions, including an arctic dive in which the “Breadalbane” was discovered. His son Jeff led an expedition to sail the Northwest Passage (photo by Guntar Kravis).

The expedition, from July 30 to August 31, was led by Bill Garzke and David Livingston, aboard the Ocean Voyager, which set sail from Boston Harbor. Three other ships joined them in the expedition - NadirAbeille Supporter and Petrel 5.

Lying 16 km from the Titanic‘s wreck site, 3300 m beneath the surface, was the section Titanic explorers call the “Big Piece,” a 22-ton, 7.5 m by 3.9 m piece of the hull. Retrieval of the section had been attempted before by George Tullock in 1996. Tullock, aboard the Nadir, successfully retrieved the Big Piece on 10 August, using 2 huge lift bags filled with lighter-than-water diesel fuel and a winch. The retrieved piece was made of steel plates striped with strong vertical steel beams and had 4 portholes as well as portions of 2 others. The manufacturer’s marking was still clearly visible on the brass fittings on the portholes – “Utley’s Patent #11.126-1908.”

titanic-wreck

Wreckage of the RMS Titanic. Efforts have been made to salvage large portions of the RMS Titanic, most recently in 1998 when a 15-ton piece of the hull was brought to the surface.

On 28 August a gangway door was retrieved from the main wreckage site. It was in the open position in the ship’s hull, most likely having been opened to allow passengers to escape to the lifeboats.

The expedition explored parts of the ship never seen before with a small remote-operated camera and, through a complicated connection of computers and television cameras, transmitted images from the wreckage via satellite to the world.

Dr D. Roy Cullimore, a microbiologist, placed samples of 15 different types of steel under the Titanic‘s engines, where they were to remain for at least a year. He studied the ship’s “rusticles,” which are unusual biological formations, consortiums of various microbes growing and co-operating in ways we do not see on land. Cullimore estimated that the wreck loses one-tenth of a ton every day to the iron-eating rusticles and that within 20 years the ship will suffer a biological implosion and collapse.

Read the original article at The Canadian Encyclopedia

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. I don’t understand the continued fascination with the wreckage of the Titanic. It sailed, it sank, we’ve been analyzing and replaying the horror for over a century. To what end?

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