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Titanic: The Crash and the Inquiry

Titanic. A name that has gone down in infamy as a sensationalized nautical tragedy. Due to its persistence in public imagination, particularly of the US, many people have some inkling of what happened, but here is a quick summary of the details concerning the ship’s voyage and the resulting investigation of its fatal collision:

  • Set sail on its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912; operated by White Star Line (Oceanic Steam Navigation Company); going from Southampton, UK to New York, US. 
  • Incurred damage from iceberg collision in North Atlantic late on April 14; went down early morning of April 15; around 710 survivors in lifeboats rescued by RMS Carpathia.
  • Repeated warnings from other ships in the vicinity that iceberg was in the Titanic’s path. Ice warning by the ship Mesaba never made it to the bridge; its contents told the crew that ice was directly in the path of the Titanic, not just near it.
  • Inquiries were held in Britain between May 2 and July 3, 1912. Twenty-six questions were handed down to the commission to ask the witnesses. Inquiries were also held in the U.S. 
  • The purpose of the inquiry was to gather facts about the tragedy to figure out what went wrong and prevent it from happening again. The inquiries also further spurred public interest in the event.
  • Lord Mersey headed the British inquiry alongside a court of people who knew naval architecture and shipbuilding. They mostly listened to testimonies of witnesses from first class.
  • The U.S. inquiry blamed British Board of Trade for approving a too-small number of lifeboats on the ship as the organization was responsible for maritime regulations. British Board denied the accusation but the event shaped the future of ship travel as installing an appropriate number of lifeboats corresponding with the number of people onboard was made a new priority. 
  • Both inquiries denounced the actions of the captain of SS Californian, a ship that did not help Titanic as it sank even though they were in close proximity.
  • Final report published July 30, 1912. Concluded that the sinking was the sole result of the collision with the iceberg, not because any fault in the way it was built (since then, technical problems with the construction have been pinpointed as contributing factors as well); marked officers as complacent and lookout inadequate; too few lifeboats.
  • People involved continually blamed everyone but themselves, saying their duties came from superior officers and they were only following orders. Lack of an answer has led to the story being even more sensationalized than it was at the time, morphing it into mythic proportions.

The inquiry was flawed and people today continue to take interest in the unresolved details surrounding the collision. Still interested in the proceedings? Purchase tickets for in-person or digital viewing of Owen McCafferty’s Titanic (Scenes from the British Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry, 1912) here!

Posted on April 19, 2021 in Productions

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