A number years ago, my family and I excitedly set sail on a weekend cruise. It was the first cruise experience for all of us, and we all recalled scenes from the movie Titanic as we participated in the initial activity on board the ship — an emergency evacuation drill complete with life vests and orderly assembly at assigned muster stations, which my youngest called the “mustard station.” The experience was made even more surreal because of the recent discovery of the Titanic’s final resting place on the floor of the North Atlantic and the popular movie based on the ship’s fatal maiden voyage. Like the rest of the world, we had been reawakened to the horrors of being lost at sea in a sinking vessel.
The story of the tragic collision with the iceberg on that frigid night in 1912 that proved fatal for one thousand five hundred thirteen passengers and crew members may have been more accurately chronicled in the classic A Night to Remember that went into great detail to describe all the errors or misjudgments that doomed those victims to their watery graves. The litany of errors from that one night is almost unthinkable. To name only a few, we could begin by mentioning that the Titanic’s navigator was warned of icebergs ahead but chose to ignore the warnings because he considered the bearings to be a miscalculation. A message that was received by the telegraph operator on the ship warning of danger in their immediate path was ignored because the technician had no knowledge of nautical calculation of longitude and latitude and, therefore, did not realize that message needed to be conveyed to the bridge immediately. The watchmen on the Titanic were not issued binoculars in order to scan the horizon for impending danger. We could mention that the California — which could have rescued everyone aboard the Titanic — was positioned only ten miles away as the entire drama unfolded. Unfortunately, the ship’s wireless was turned off, so no one heard the desperate cries for help. Additionally, the crew of the California ignored the signal flares from the floundering ship, thinking them to be a fireworks display set off by the ship as it celebrated its maiden voyage. There were not nearly enough lifeboats on board the ship to accommodate the full roster of those aboard. In addition, there was not adequate emergency evacuation training and drills for the staff and passengers, resulting in deadly confusion as they tried to board the available life rafts. Hardly any of the rescue vessels left the ship with full capacity, needlessly leaving behind human cargo. Compounded with the chaos and confusion of the night was despicable human pride that blocked off the first-class passengers’ decks from the quarters of the lower-class passengers. The horror of that arrangement is that these steerage passengers were actually fenced off from the decks where the lifeboats were being boarded; in essence, they were imprisoned in the sinking ship! Of course, the design of the vessel must be considered in that it was a virtual death trap even though it had been flaunted that the Titanic could be sunk by neither God nor man. Yes, it did have double-wall construction and hatches to close off areas that began to take on water, but these safety features were installed only to a certain height on the boat. Once the water exceeded that level, the vessel was nothing more than a mass of iron rushing toward the sea bottom. [Read more…]