Though I really know little about sailing and have little experience of it I have a recurring fascination with naval vessels and especially the big capital ships. So when I went to Times
site just now, even though it was a civilian liner, I started reading this article
about a new theory (with some compelling evidence) of why the Titanic sank.
Now, for myself, I don't think I realized there was a mystery. It hit an iceberg. It sank. Tragedy, great melodrama, sure. But what's the mystery?
But apparently one of the things that became clear after the wreckage of the Titanic was discovered in the 1980s (besides the fact that there was no one still living in it like in those corny made-for-TV movies) was that the expected massive gash in the ship's starboard hull actually wasn't there. Instead there were "six narrow slits where bow plates appeared to have parted." And this in turn cast suspicion on the rivets.
The theory has been circulating
for a decade. But the authors of What Really Sank the Titanic
use a combination of physical evidence obtained from the wreckage (48 recovered rivets) and archival evidence from the archives of the ship's builder, Harland and Wolff
, which is still in business, to make the case that the builders were building on such a vast scale and under so much time pressure that they simply couldn't come up with enough high quality rivets or riveters. So they cut corners. The result of which was that the ship's plates split open much more quickly than they might have with better materials. Better construction would have kept the ship afloat long enough for many more passengers and crew to be rescued.
In any case, not everyone believes the authors have made their case. And high on that list is Harland and Wolff
, the Titanic's manufacture now accused of faulty or slipshod practices that resulted in the deaths of 1500 people. "There was nothing wrong with the materials," company spokesman Joris Minne said primly, before noting that one of Titanic's sister ships, Olympic, sailed for a quarter century without a hitch.
I suppose this isn't surprising. Corporations don't make a habit of admitting negligence. But there aren't that many corporations that can trace their history back more than a century -- at least not undivided and unmerged. But, more than that, the story of the Titanic seems so embedded in history that there's something oddly incongruous about the thought that there's still an institution, a company, so invested in defending the quality of its workmanship. Not that it's not understandable. A shipbuilding company is probably never going to want to trumpet having built the titanic. But somehow I would have imagined that some sort of emotional or moral statute of limitations had run out.