As rescuers continue combing the seas for the missing OceanGate Expeditions submersible, some eye-opening news has surfaced. The company seems to have brushed away dire warnings five years ago about the craft's integrity and any safety concerns about bringing wealthy tourists to visit the Titanic wreckage, located deep underwater at 13,000 feet.
In 2018, OceanGate's director of marine operations was fired after he lodged a whistleblower complaint on the safety of the company's now missing vessel dubbed the Titan, and that the company could "subject passengers to potential extreme danger in an experimental submersible," according to CBS News.
David Lochridge, the former employee, had reported his fears about the touring submersible to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and also detailed his concerns in court documents about the safety of the Titan's hull and how certain testing was not performed on the craft, according to the report.
In that same year, a letter signed by leaders in the submersible industry also warned about the Titan possibly not meeting safety standards or getting vital inspection, testing, and certification from a third party, the New York Times reports.
"Our apprehension is that the current experimental approach adopted by OceanGate could result in negative outcomes
(from minor to catastrophic) that would have serious consequences for everyone in the industry," reads the letter from the Marine Technology Society, a 60-year-old trade organization devoted to advancing oceanic technologies.
The letter, which was signed by 38 people, came from the group's Manned Underwater Vehicles committee and was sent to OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, who is widely believed to be among the five passengers inside the Titan submersible that went missing on Sunday.
The signees of the letter, made up of sea explorers, oceanographers, and heads of private marine companies, asked that OceanGate submit any prototypes to outside inspection and testing.
They also called the company's marketing content "misleading" because it claimed the Titan met or exceeded certain safety standards — and yet the company was not planning to have the craft assessed, according to the NYT.
"The submersible industry had significant concerns over the strategy of building a deep sea expedition submersible without following existing classification safety guidelines," Will Kohnen, chairman of the committee that penned the paper, told the NYT.
After receiving the letter, Rush called Kohnen and told him that industry standards were stifling innovation. This more or less squares up with Rush's comments to a CBS reporter last year, in which he argued that "safety is just pure waste."
Meanwhile, Lochridge had put together a "scathing" report "in which he said the craft needed more testing and stressed 'the potential dangers to passengers of the Titan as the submersible reached extreme depths,'" the NYT reports.
However, the company told Lochridge it would not pay for any third-party assessment. Lochridge feared for the hull because, for example, a viewport in the vessel was only certified for 4,200 feet of depth while the Titanic is located at 13,000 feet below the surface.
Lochridge was later fired after bringing up these concerns with the company, according to the NYT. OceanGate sued him for breaching his employment contract due to his disclosure and Lochridge counter-filed with his own complaint, CBS News reports.
The news leaves us with plenty of unanswered questions. Did Rush and OceanGate put innovation first and safety a distant second? Why were these warnings not taken as seriously? Could they have anything to do with the disappearance of the Titan?
While teams are still frantically searching for the vessel — as of Wednesday morning, the crew only has roughly a day of air left — we're left with a puzzle that's still missing plenty of pieces.
More on submarines: Debris Found From Missing Submarine, All Crew Presumed Dead
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