How much of a difference did the Titanic sinking really make to maritime safety?

Rob Lawes

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The thread title is something I've been pondering on for a while now.

We know what the outcomes of the initial inquiries were and the responses by White Star and the wider industry. Looking at the impact of these going forward, I think it's easy to argue that very few of the recommendations have had a significant impact on maritime safety.

The most obvious one that did was 24 hour radio coverage by all ships at sea. At least distress calls wouldn't be missed. With the advent of modern telecommunications this system has become even more reliable.

On the other hand, if we look at the lifeboats and space for all onboard, how many subsequent sinkings have had the time or list free ability to launch all of the available boats? None spring to mind. Various examples where this was impossible are available. The Estonia and Herald of Free Enterprise rolled over in minutes. The Andrea Dora, Costa Concordia and Oceanos listed so badly that only half their boats could be launched. Yarmouth Castle remained on an even keel but fire prevented passengers from accessing many of the boats.

In terms of practices and procedures at sea, a lot of these were already in place although there use was being implemented sluggishly. I suppose the Titanic sinking hastened the abandonment of the old style rudder orders and the standardisation of communication and distress signalling but again, this had already been agreed by international conferences before the disaster.

Finally, in terms of ship construction, ships would for many years after still become death traps in a fire or have fewer compartments open to the sea than Titanic and still sink. The fact remains, if enough water gets into a ship, no matter how high the bulkheads or the thickness of the double hill, she'll still end up on the bottom.

Overall, I think it's easy to argue that apart from the huge outrage at the time and the "seen to do something" response, the impact on maritime safety made by the Titanic disaster was arguably negligible.

Thoughts ??
 

Doug Criner

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There is an interesting incident where a subsequent marine disaster was worsened because of safety requirements adopted in the wake of the loss of Titanic.

In 1915, SS Eastland was loading passengers in the Chicago River, and capsized, killing more passengers than died aboard Titanic. After Titanic, Eastland had been required to add many more lifeboats, which caused the ship to become more unstable due to the reduction in metacentric height (and Eastland was rather tender, even before adding additional lifeboats). For more information, Google "SS Eastland disaster",
 
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Aaron_2016

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I believe there were a number of positive changes that were made as a result of the disaster which may or may not have been a mandatory change, but were obeyed for the sake of safety. I believe shipping routes may have been moved further south by orders, or by the captain of each ships own discretion, and more rigorous ice patrols were created as a result of the Titanic disaster. Ships fitted with wireless would also operate longer hours and possibly the confusion of distress rockets and signal rockets were made more clearer. I wonder how often the Titanic was mentioned to all of the new recruits.

I agree the addition of lifeboats was more of a cautionary measure, and sadly there were no guarantees that more lives could be saved with more lifeboats. e.g. Here are a number of wartime disasters from 1915 - 1916. More lifeboats had little or no effect in the loss of life.



shipssunk.png



I wonder if the Titanic had more lifeboats, would the added weight cause her to roll over to port and sink more rapidly. Lightoller believed the movement of the passengers created a "righting movement" and the crew heard Captain Smith order the passengers to the starboard side "to straighten her up" and keep her balanced in the water. The additional weight of extra lifeboats on the port side might have rolled her over completely. Keeping the ship upright long enough to lower all available lifeboats was a difficult task. It was incredible how steady the Titanic settled down.



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SmileyGirl

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Was there a law at all introduced to not do 22 knots in darkness?!
 
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In 1913 the U.S. Navy began patrolling the area of the North Atlantic with the intention of warning commercial shipping of an ice dangers. This duty was later handed off to the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service which eventually became part of the U.S. Coast guard. At first by ship, but later by air, the International Ice Patrol now has an enviable record. As stated in a Coast Guard web site, "No vessels heeding Ice Patrol’s warning in the 104 years since its inception has collided with an iceberg. The Coast Guard is very proud of this enviable, perfect safety record and is dedicated to keeping vessels safe navigating across the North Atlantic."

A century without loss of life brings great credit on the members of the IIC. However, that they go out day after day in search of danger is Titanic's enduring legacy.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Was there a law at all introduced to not do 22 knots in darkness?!
I've never heard of a law that required ships to reduce speed at night in open water. Different ports had different rules for their areas. It would be counter productive for commercial ships especially ones with mail contracts or other cargo that had to be on time or pay penalties. A good Captain would reduce speed if conditions called for it. I'm sure one of the professional mariners here could give you a definant answer but I haven't heard of a law like that.
 
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SmileyGirl

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Ok thanks. But Smith should have reduced speed knowing he was coming up to ice shouldn’t he? Or was he not doing anything wrong by doing that speed still?
 

Dave Gittins

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You need a copy of International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, commonly called the COLREGS. They are far too complicated to give here. They are easily found online.

In summary, a ship is required to travel at a safe speed, having regard to the visibility, the presence of other ships, ice reports and so forth. There is no blanket ban on sailing fast in the dark. It's matter for the captain's judgement. These days ships have the aid of radar and the Automatic Identification System, so in theory they can safely go fast in most conditions. AIS is rather neat. It tells what ships are around, how fast they are going and their courses. It calculates how close another ship will get to you. Even so, accidents still happen. The other day, a Chinese icebreaker hit a berg in fog, while doing less that four knots. They got away with it!
 
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SmileyGirl

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Thanks very much Dave. I didn’t know about AIS, that’s awesome. Pity it didn’t work for the Chinese icebreaker!
 

Dave Gittins

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It would have worked, if the berg had been fitted with an AIS transmitter. There's a project for you! Just find bergs and fit them out.

In places there are Virtual Aids to Navigation. A shore station puts out a signal that makes it look as if there is a navigational mark, such as a beacon, in a certain place. Anybody nearby can't see a real beacon, but a mark appears on their AIS screen. We already have one in local waters and soon several real marks will be replaced with virtual marks while dredging is done in the area.
 

Rob Lawes

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No vessels heeding Ice Patrol’s warning in the 104 years since its inception has collided with an iceberg.
Don't get me wrong, I've worked with, admire and respect the work of the coastguard but that statement raised a smile.

It's the same as saying that no person who ever listened to my warning not to stick their fingers in an electric socket has ever been electrocuted. Well duh !!
 
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Aaron_2016

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Ok thanks. But Smith should have reduced speed knowing he was coming up to ice shouldn’t he? Or was he not doing anything wrong by doing that speed still?
Bruce Ismay was asked that very question at the US Inquiry. He replied:

"I should say if a man can see far enough to clear ice, he is perfectly justified in going full speed."

Q - Then apparently you did not expect your Captain to slow down when he had ice reports?
- No, certainly not.

"I presume that the man (the captain) would be anxious to get through the ice region. He would not want to slow down upon the chance of a fog coming on."

Q - So that, of course, the object of it would be to get through it as fast as you could?
A - I presume that if a man on a perfectly clear night could see far enough to clear an iceberg he would be perfectly justified in getting through the ice region as quickly as he possibly could.

As long as the horizon was clear they would have maintained speed. Fog banks were common at sea and they would have anticipated that one may come along at any moment. As long as the horizon was clear they had little to worry about, and they would probably increase speed and cover as much distance as they could before they encountered the fog and were forced to slow down. This is why Ismay said the captain was "perfectly justified in going full speed."

2nd officer Lightoller received orders from the captain on Sunday night to keep a lookout for any fog or haze on the horizon because that would require them to immediately slow down.

Lightoller
"The Captain said, "If it becomes at all doubtful let me know at once; I will be just inside."

Q - What about?
A - About the weather, about the distance I could see. Principally those two conditions it would refer to. If there were the slightest degree of haze to arise, the slightest haze whatever, if that were to any degree noticeable, to immediately notify him.

Q - I will take what you have just said. You said if the slightest degree of haze was to arise, that would be what was meant, you were to notify him?
A - Immediately; yes.

Q - And then did you understand, and do you represent, that if the slightest degree of haze arose it would at once become dangerous?
A - Well, it would render it more difficult to see the ice, though not necessarily dangerous. If we were coming on a large berg there might be a haze, as there frequently is in that position, where warm and cold streams are intermixing. You will very frequently get a little low-lying haze, smoke we call it, lying on the water perhaps a couple of feet.

Q - Do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that it would be necessarily dangerous in the sense that there would necessarily be an accident, but there would be a risk of danger, would not there?
A - If there was any haze?

Q - Yes?
A - Undoubtedly.

Q - The slightest haze?
A - The slightest haze would render the situation far more difficult.

Q - Far more dangerous?
A - Far more dangerous if there were ice.

Yet nobody notified the captain that there was haze right ahead, or at least nobody who survived had testified that the captain was notified. The lookout had noticed the haze getting worse and by 11.40pm it was impossible to see the horizon at all. It is interesting how Lookout Lee became very defensive with these three questions:

Q - Were you not then of opinion that the pressure of that haze made the passage dangerous?
A - I am not the officer of the watch.

Q - When this observation was made to you did you not think it a proper thing to communicate with the officer on the bridge?
A - Certainly not. The officer of the watch would ask you what you meant by it. He would ask you whether you were interfering with his duty or not.

Q - When you are going through a haze at night, is it usual to slow up, slacken speed?
A - That has nothing to do with me. I am not on the bridge. I am a look-out man, as I said before.

There was also a vital ice warning message from the Mesaba which indicated the presence of ice right across the Titanic's path. Lightoller was on duty when the message was received, but he told the Inquiry that he never received the message and that had he known about it he would have slowed down the ship immediately, but the wireless operator on the Mesaba told the Inquiry that he sent the message to the Titanic and (very importantly) he had also received a reply from the Titanic which proved that the message was received and that it would have fallen into Lightoller's hands. Yet he denied all knowledge of it. He wrote a book and claimed that the wireless operator had accidentally put a paper weight over it and forgot about it. them which indicated that the message was received. This outraged Harold Bride and he wrote a letter condemning Lightoller's accusation.

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Mike Spooner

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The Titanic loss was the wake up call. The authorities setting the rules had come complacency. As they would argue since the wooden ships had replace for metal plated ships, the ship losses and passengers deaths had reduced. Its like that classic saying. If ant broke why fix it! Truly caught with there pants down of Titanic.
The ones who loss there lives on Titanic did not quite die in vane either?
As through the great safety improvements is one of reason why we are hear to-day to tell the story!
 
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SmileyGirl

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Bruce Ismay was asked that very question at the US Inquiry. He replied:


"I should say if a man can see far enough to clear ice, he is perfectly justified in going full speed."

Q - Then apparently you did not expect your Captain to slow down when he had ice reports?
- No, certainly not.

"I presume that the man (the captain) would be anxious to get through the ice region. He would not want to slow down upon the chance of a fog coming on."

Q - So that, of course, the object of it would be to get through it as fast as you could?
A - I presume that if a man on a perfectly clear night could see far enough to clear an iceberg he would be perfectly justified in getting through the ice region as quickly as he possibly could.


As long as the horizon was clear they would have maintained speed. Fog banks were common at sea and they would have anticipated that one may come along at any moment. As long as the horizon was clear they had little to worry about, and they would probably increase speed and cover as much distance as they could before they encountered the fog and were forced to slow down. This is why Ismay said the captain was "perfectly justified in going full speed."

2nd officer Lightoller received orders from the captain on Sunday night to keep a lookout for any fog or haze on the horizon because that would require them to immediately slow down.

Lightoller
"The Captain said, "If it becomes at all doubtful let me know at once; I will be just inside."

Q - What about?
A - About the weather, about the distance I could see. Principally those two conditions it would refer to. If there were the slightest degree of haze to arise, the slightest haze whatever, if that were to any degree noticeable, to immediately notify him.

Q - I will take what you have just said. You said if the slightest degree of haze was to arise, that would be what was meant, you were to notify him?
A - Immediately; yes.

Q - And then did you understand, and do you represent, that if the slightest degree of haze arose it would at once become dangerous?
A - Well, it would render it more difficult to see the ice, though not necessarily dangerous. If we were coming on a large berg there might be a haze, as there frequently is in that position, where warm and cold streams are intermixing. You will very frequently get a little low-lying haze, smoke we call it, lying on the water perhaps a couple of feet.

Q - Do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that it would be necessarily dangerous in the sense that there would necessarily be an accident, but there would be a risk of danger, would not there?
A - If there was any haze?

Q - Yes?
A - Undoubtedly.

Q - The slightest haze?
A - The slightest haze would render the situation far more difficult.

Q - Far more dangerous?
A - Far more dangerous if there were ice.


Yet nobody notified the captain that there was haze right ahead, or at least nobody who survived had testified that the captain was notified. The lookout had noticed the haze getting worse and by 11.40pm it was impossible to see the horizon at all. It is interesting how Lookout Lee became very defensive with these three questions:


Q - Were you not then of opinion that the pressure of that haze made the passage dangerous?
A - I am not the officer of the watch.

Q - When this observation was made to you did you not think it a proper thing to communicate with the officer on the bridge?
A - Certainly not. The officer of the watch would ask you what you meant by it. He would ask you whether you were interfering with his duty or not.

Q - When you are going through a haze at night, is it usual to slow up, slacken speed?
A - That has nothing to do with me. I am not on the bridge. I am a look-out man, as I said before.


There was also a vital ice warning message from the Mesaba which indicated the presence of ice right across the Titanic's path. Lightoller was on duty when the message was received, but he told the Inquiry that he never received the message and that had he known about it he would have slowed down the ship immediately, but the wireless operator on the Mesaba told the Inquiry that he sent the message to the Titanic and (very importantly) he had also received a reply from the Titanic which proved that the message was received and that it would have fallen into Lightoller's hands. Yet he denied all knowledge of it. He wrote a book and claimed that the wireless operator had accidentally put a paper weight over it and forgot about it. them which indicated that the message was received. This outraged Harold Bride and he wrote a letter condemning Lightoller's accusation.


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Thanks Aaron. So a haze appeared, so should Murdoch have notified Smith? Smith should have then reduced speed?
 
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SmileyGirl

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The Titanic loss was the wake up call. The authorities setting the rules had come complacency. As they would argue since the wooden ships had replace for metal plated ships, the ship losses and passengers deaths had reduced. Its like that classic saying. If ant broke why fix it! Truly caught with there pants down of Titanic.
The ones who loss there lives on Titanic did not quite die in vane either?
As through the great safety improvements is one of reason why we are hear to-day to tell the story!
It certainly was a wake up call. Still, it’s a pity it had to happen for people to put basic adequate safety procedures in place :(
 
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It certainly was a wake up call. Still, it’s a pity it had to happen for people to put basic adequate safety procedures in place :(
It's a common quote and has been stated many times on this site in various threads. "Safety rules and regulations are written in blood". Sometimes bad situations have to happen to bring a problem to light. Rules and regs are always changing when different things happen. The industry I was in (electrical generation) the rules sometimes changed so much and fast we had to scramble to comply, ie...getting different equip and such. But yes it was sad what happened to people on Titanic when if just one thing of many were done different that night.
 
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Aaron_2016

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Thanks Aaron. So a haze appeared, so should Murdoch have notified Smith? Smith should have then reduced speed?

It is strongly believed that the haze was really refraction of the horizon which made it non-distinct like a hazy glare. The stars were reported to be very strong that night and they could be seen with the same intensity down to the horizon, but in the minutes leading up to the collision they would have appeared as a blurry non-distinct glare on the horizon due to the refraction and their glare against the huge ice field that was just a few miles ahead would make it difficult to distinctly see the horizon ahead. The Titanic was sailing closer and closer to two bodies of water that clashed together (cold labrador current meeting the warmer gulf stream). I believe Murdoch may have believed it was simply refraction and not an actual haze and there was no concern because it was not a physical haze which they could steam into and become surrounded by, so he continued at full speed. Fellow member David Brown believes the Titanic was in the process of changing course and was just turning more southerly when the collision occurred. Quartermaster Hichens said the captain was in his chart room. He was possibly marking out their new course and position on the chart. Lookout Frederick Fleet said the haze extended as far as 2 points to port and starboard across their bow. This matches the bearings of the huge ice field that lay directly ahead of them as it would light up like a beacon in the glare of the starlight, but the refraction had muffled it into a hazy glare.

The officers knew there were ice reports further north, so it certainly makes sense that if they were going to change course and steam around the haze they would turn south and steam towards the clear skies that were 2 points to port. What is interesting is that Quartermaster Hichens said he was instructed to turn the ship left and that when he felt the collision he looked at his compass and saw the ship had turned 2 points to port. Nobody felt the ship heave over when the alleged 'hard a-starboard' order was given. This means two possible things - either the order was not given and was just an invention like the full astern order, or there was an order given before the collision to turn the helm 2 points to port in a normal course change to steer the ship towards the clearer skies that would not cause the ship to heave over to one side because she was not turning hard over at high speed. There was no need to reduce speed if they could simply change course and go around the danger. Perhaps they were in the process of changing course when they accidentally steered into the iceberg as they began to turn left and the iceberg cut across their bow and brushed against their starboard side. Lookout Fleet said the ship was already turning left before he reported it, yet Boxhall and Hichens claimed that the order 'hard a-starboard' was given after Fleet had reported the iceberg. Yet Fleet told Major Peuchen that he never reported it because nobody picked up the phone. If the ship was turning left, then it very likely happened as a normal course change and the iceberg suddenly passed across their bow and swiped across their starboard side.


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SmileyGirl

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It's a common quote and has been stated many times on this site in various threads. "Safety rules and regulations are written in blood". Sometimes bad situations have to happen to bring a problem to light. Rules and regs are always changing when different things happen. The industry I was in (electrical generation) the rules sometimes changed so much and fast we had to scramble to comply, ie...getting different equip and such. But yes it was sad what happened to people on Titanic when if just one thing of many were done different that night.
Well we are still letting bad things happen in the present also!
 
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SmileyGirl

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It is strongly believed that the haze was really refraction of the horizon which made it non-distinct like a hazy glare. The stars were reported to be very strong that night and they could be seen with the same intensity down to the horizon, but in the minutes leading up to the collision they would have appeared as a blurry non-distinct glare on the horizon due to the refraction and their glare against the huge ice field that was just a few miles ahead would make it difficult to distinctly see the horizon ahead. The Titanic was sailing closer and closer to two bodies of water that clashed together (cold labrador current meeting the warmer gulf stream). I believe Murdoch may have believed it was simply refraction and not an actual haze and there was no concern because it was not a physical haze which they could steam into and become surrounded by, so he continued at full speed. Fellow member David Brown believes the Titanic was in the process of changing course and was just turning more southerly when the collision occurred. Quartermaster Hichens said the captain was in his chart room. He was possibly marking out their new course and position on the chart. Lookout Frederick Fleet said the haze extended as far as 2 points to port and starboard across their bow. This matches the bearings of the huge ice field that lay directly ahead of them as it would light up like a beacon in the glare of the starlight, but the refraction had muffled it into a hazy glare.

The officers knew there were ice reports further north, so it certainly makes sense that if they were going to change course and steam around the haze they would turn south and steam towards the clear skies that were 2 points to port. What is interesting is that Quartermaster Hichens said he was instructed to turn the ship left and that when he felt the collision he looked at his compass and saw the ship had turned 2 points to port. Nobody felt the ship heave over when the alleged 'hard a-starboard' order was given. This means two possible things - either the order was not given and was just an invention like the full astern order, or there was an order given before the collision to turn the helm 2 points to port in a normal course change to steer the ship towards the clearer skies that would not cause the ship to heave over to one side because she was not turning hard over at high speed. There was no need to reduce speed if they could simply change course and go around the danger. Perhaps they were in the process of changing course when they accidentally steered into the iceberg as they began to turn left and the iceberg cut across their bow and brushed against their starboard side. Lookout Fleet said the ship was already turning left before he reported it, yet Boxhall and Hichens claimed that the order 'hard a-starboard' was given after Fleet had reported the iceberg. Yet Fleet told Major Peuchen that he never reported it because nobody picked up the phone. If the ship was turning left, then it very likely happened as a normal course change and the iceberg suddenly passed across their bow and swiped across their starboard side.


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Thanks very much Aaron. I’m glad to know Murdoch is still a hero and I cannot fault him:D