Would The Britannic Have Sunk if...


Dec 2, 2000
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Well, that might point to aggravating factors, but the main reason Britannic sank was that she parked on a mine. Take that link out of the chain, and nothing else really matters.
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Alicia Coors

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We're talking about two different things. Your scenario is predicated on the assumption that everyone on board would be crowding the boats, and I posit that the majority of them would still be below. The record shows quite clearly that most passengers had no idea how to get to the boat deck.

If a lack of lifeboat space is not apparent, the likelihood of panic will remain at a normal level (i.e., no greater than might be expected if there were enough seats for all on board).
 
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Mike Anderson

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Who's to say what a normal likelyhood of panic is? Moreover, who's to say (especially in the heat of the moment) what's an acceptable level? I'm no mariner, but I'm pretty sure that during an evacuation with even a surplus of lifeboats, panic is not just a remote possibility, it's a pretty good probablity. Even without all the factors working against the Titanic's crew, evacuating a ship seems like a sketchy proposition at best.

I agree that the evacuation onboard the Titanic was the best that could have been accomplished without the aid of hindsight. The alternative of crew hurrying people into lifeboats could have been seen as one of two things: the crew loosing composure or the desparation of the crew, neither of which are good images to project onto an already spooked crowd.

Even without massive crowds on deck, it could have taken only a few people to turn the situation sour. If more people had known the severity of the situation early on (which the more relaxed boatloading pace and the band avoided), there could have been many more incidents of boat-rushing. God knows it would only take a few incidents of that to send the situation spiralling out of control.
 

Erik Wood

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Due to computer problems I am having problems downloading the NTSB report on the 1998 Ectasy fire, it is available at www.ntsb.gov . I would encourage folks to read this as there are several decisions made that day solely based on the fear or presence of panic, one of which was to stop handing out lifejackets to those who either could not obtain one from there cabin or had given there's up to others.

The Royal Navy teach's it's officers never to run, NEVER!!!! Running during an emergency situation gives the impression that the situation is beyond the control of the officer that is running, that then provides fear that things are worse then can be handled, and that leads to disorganization and the situation completely falling apart.

This same princepal is taught to those who handle passengers at muster stations, etc all of which (with the acception of the Royal Navy) was developed well after Titanic's foundering.

In a Emergency you:

1. Do what is possible not what is probable.

filling the boats with who is there and lowering it in a timely manner is possible. Waiting for people to get into the boat and then lower it in a timely manner is probable.

2. You contain the situation.

In Titanic's case the main situation is three fold. a) You don't have a lot of time to lower boats. b)The ship is sinking. c)There isn't enough seats for all. So you contain the one you have some sort of control over. You fill the boats with available personnel, don't start a panic and get some people off. Contain the problem, don't expand it, you can't fit everybody on the boat deck, you can't fit problaby a quarter of the people on the boat deck, so a total knowledge mass announcement is both the incorrect thing to do and a very dangerous thing to do.

3. Do what you have to, not what you \greem}want to.

You have to get some people off the ship quickly. You want to get them all off the ship quickly. Sometimes this means making hard decisions.

Ship evcuation in the best of circumstances is a dangerous under taking.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>We're talking about two different things.<<

Quite right. I'm dicussing some pretty ugly reality. Not classroom theory.

>> Your scenario is predicated on the assumption that everyone on board would be crowding the boats, and I posit that the majority of them would still be below.<<

And perhaps they would be or were...but not for long. Remember that description about that "great mass of humanity" coming up from below? (Colonel Gracie IIRC.) These people were anything but calm, cool and collected. The only thing that kept the situation from becoming much worse at an earlier stage was that they played it cool.

>>If a lack of lifeboat space is not apparent, the likelihood of panic will remain at a normal level (i.e., no greater than might be expected if there were enough seats for all on board).<<

As a matter of fact, it isn't "apparent" by any means, even today See the example Erik mentioned which can be read HERE. (Adobe acrobat reader required). Lack of lifeboat space was not an issue here, but the very real fear remained. Had things gotten out of hand, the officers and crew would have been overwhelmed.

For the part Erik was referring to, see page 21 of 103 in the document.
At the Master's direction, the Cruise Director instructed mustered passengers not to return to their cabins for their lifejackets if they were berthed in the aft part of the ship. The Cruise Director announced that lifejackets would be provided to them at their muster stations. At the Safety Board's public hearing, the Master testified that he did not order the crew to hand out lifejackets when passengers were mustered because efforts to contain the fire were successful and no one was in danger. He said that he wanted to maintain a calm environment by conveying the impression that the situation was under control and did not warrant the distribution of lifejackets. He therefor ordered the crew to stop distributing lifejackets to avoid panic among the passengers.

Here's another interesting quote on page 28 of 103;
CARNIVAL'S POST ACCIDENT REQUIREMENTS. According to Carnival Cruise Lines' officials, in Fall 1998, the company began requiring it's senior deck, engineering and other officers to attend courses in crisis management and human behavior and crowd management. Crewmembers in safety-related positions were required to attend crowd management training.

The rest of that report makes for interesting reading too.
 

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Erik Wood

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Another note worthy bit, is that the NTSB sends out questionaire's to passengers that where directly effected (in this case those that had cabins in the aft area of the ship or #2 MVZ and those that had to move muster stations due to smoke). In a response passengers reported that officers or crewmembers where ordered by higher authority to stop handing out lifejackets.

The NTSB for the most part is a great organization and that spends a lot of time attempting to sort out and fix problems after a disaster. The reports are genenerally well organized and well written. There is a lot of good information in them, and anybody wanting an insight into how these kinds of inquiries work today reading one or numerous reports is a good learning tool.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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A little entry on ET today that's worth reading can be found HERE by Anthony Charles Givelin Paine. This deals with a recent collision with an iceberg by the M/V Marco Polo on 29 January of this year in the Antarctic. Noteworthy is that the Captain and crew did much the same today that Smith & Co. did back in 1912; Play things down and keep the passengers calm.

Assuming this story is true, I'd look forward to reading the accident report on this one.

 

Jeremy Lee

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Play things down and keep the passengers calm isn't always going to work, especially if the ship is really doomed and people don't believe it would sink, they would learn the hard way. Keeping the passengers calm is fine, but playing things down is not. The passengers should be made to board the boats even under the assurance that everything is OK.

But everything's better than having a panic on board!
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Play things down and keep the passengers calm isn't always going to work, especially if the ship is really doomed and people don't believe it would sink, they would learn the hard way.<<

In the final reckoning, perhaps not. Not all of the stories of gunplay on the Titanic's boat deck are wrong, and officers don't use guns to keep order when order is being kept. Bear in mind that the objective isn't to stop panic even when the water closes over the stern...just stop it long enough to get as many people away as possible befor everything goes to hell. Was the way the Titanic's officers handled the crisis perfect?

No.

Could any of us have done any better?

Maybe.

The problem is that none of us were there to point things out that we can see with the clarity of 20/20 hindsight. They had what they had and no more, so they had to make do.

>>Keeping the passengers calm is fine, but playing things down is not.<<

Actually, the two go hand in hand. When your resources are slim and you have some ugly choices to make, the last thing you need to do is start something that's going to stampede the herd.

>>The passengers should be made to board the boats even under the assurance that everything is OK.<<

Kind of an iffy proposition there. One does not load boats and get people off the ship when everything is OK. And the question that goes begging here is how do you justify *forcing* people into the boats when everything is a-Okay??? Put too much urgency into the situation, and you'll run smack dab into the very problem of panic that you desperately want to avoid.
 

Jeremy Lee

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>>Kind of an iffy proposition there. One does not load boats and get people off the ship when everything is OK. And the question that goes begging here is how do you justify *forcing* people into the boats when everything is a-Okay??? Put too much urgency into the situation, and you'll run smack dab into the very problem of panic that you desperately want to avoid.<<

That was exactly the situation that happened on the Titanic, people thought it was a boat drill.....
 

Erik Wood

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Jeremy said: That was exactly the situation that happened on the Titanic, people thought it was a boat drill.....

Is there testimony somewhere that states this??

I am sure that I am not the only Master Mariner that has dealt with passengers on a large scale on this board and I know David Haisman has done this with the BMM and could probably elborate much better then I could on the British side of things, I am only speaking from my experience in both the European and American routes.

I would never I repeat NEVER put passengers in lifeboats in the middle of the night or during broad daylight as a precaution. That is asking for a death or an injury, and by today's standard I could be tried and convicted of involunatary manslaughter. Putting people in lifeboats is an extremely risky option. That is why you wait until you are sure of the situation before loading and lowering them.

As you will recall there have been several incidents in the recent past where the ship was either not abandoned at all or abandonment was not ordered until after all other attempts to the save the vessel where unsuccessful. The best and biggest lifeboat is the ship itself. A sense of urgency as I have said before needs to be well placed to much and you have panic.

It should be noted that putting people in lifeboats when the situation doesn't warrant it is grounds for a license suspension or revocation.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>That was exactly the situation that happened on the Titanic, people thought it was a boat drill.....<<

Is there a primary source to back this up??? I've never seen anything in the testimonies which indicated that anyone thought it was a drill. And to be very clear, the situation that existed was;
A•A mortally wounded ship, with
B•A surplus of people,
C•A shortage of boats,
D•No immidiate rescue in sight and
E•Officers with tough choices to make who knew this, and had to avoid panic at any cost because,
F•The cost would have been a lot higher if they hadn't.

Lotsa Monday Morning Quarterbacking going on around here...nesseccery to a point if we're to understand what happened and why...but we need to be careful of the judgements we make. If we take it too far, we lose sight of the "why."
 

Jeremy Lee

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>>That was exactly the situation that happened on the Titanic, people thought it was a boat drill.....<<

Aarrgghh, I forgot the source, but honestly, I have read it somewhere!
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Aarrgghh, I forgot the source, but honestly, I have read it somewhere!<<

That wouldn't surprise me if somebody penned something like that. Perhaps a survivor interview by a newspaper. (Wether or not said newspaper actually interviewed the survivor they claimed they did or made it up out of nothing is another matter entirely.) Suffice to say, I've never seen anything like that in the bona fide evidence on the official record. Even those who never saw water coming in could hardly miss noticing the slight changes in the list of the ship, and the settling of the bow. Figuring out that something was badly wrong, and that the loading and launching of the boats in the middle of the ocean in the middle of the night was no drill would be no great intellectual leap.
 

Jeremy Lee

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>>Even those who never saw water coming in could hardly miss noticing the slight changes in the list of the ship, and the settling of the bow<<

They would believe it probably before 1 am at the latest!
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>They would believe it probably before 1 am at the latest!<<

I'd believe it long befor even that. But then I've made a life at sea and I have a good sense of how and why things work on a ship as they do from the perspective of a deckplate sailor. That tends to give me an unfair advantage!
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Jeremy Lee

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>>But then I've made a life at sea and I have a good sense of how and why things work on a ship as they do from the perspective of a deckplate sailor<<

Exactly! How many people aboard were 'seaworthy'?
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Dec 2, 2000
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Seriously??? Hard to tell. I'm sure that it wasn't long befor people began to realize something was very wrong with the picture they were seeing, but on some level, you could bet that there was more then a little bit of self-deception going on as well. Something along the lines of "This ship can't *really* sink" and I have little doubt that this helped keep things cool long enough to let the officers get the job done that they needed to.
 

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