“We’ve never had an accident like this,” James Cameron, the Oscar-winning director of “Titanic,” said Thursday.
Cameron, an expert in submersibles, has dived into the ship’s deteriorating hull dozens of times and has also dived to the bottom of Earth’s deepest recess in a tiny spaceship of his own design.
Cameron said in an interview that the possible five-person death on OceanGate’s Titan submersible was something no one involved in private ocean exploration had ever seen.
“There’s never been a fatality at this depth, and certainly not an implosion,” he said.
Deep ocean implosions occur when the squeezing pressure of the abyss causes hollow objects to collapse violently inward. Cameron said in an interview that if the object was large enough to accommodate five people, “it would be an extremely violent event – like 10 boxes of dynamite going off.”
In 2012, Mr Cameron designed and tested an experimental submersible in the Challenger Deep region of the Pacific Ocean. Mr Cameron did not seek ship safety certification from the maritime industry body that provides such services to numerous companies.
Cameron said, “We did it on purpose” because the spacecraft was experimental and its mission was scientific. “I would never design a vehicle that is not certified to carry passengers.”
Cameron strongly criticized OceanGate chief executive Stockton Rush, who piloted the submersible that disappeared on Sunday, because he never got his tourist submersible certified as safe. He noted that Mr. Rush called certification a barrier to innovation.
“I agree in principle,” Mr Cameron said. “But you can’t take that stance when you’re letting paying customers into your submersible, when you have innocent guests trusting you and your statements about the safety of your vehicle.”
Mr Cameron cited the Titan submersible’s carbon fiber composite structure as a design flaw and a possible warning to passengers. These materials are widely used in the aerospace industry because they weigh much less than steel or aluminum, yet are stronger and stiffer.
The problem, Mr Cameron said, was that carbon fiber composites “have no compressive strength” – something that happens when subsea vehicles go deep into the abyss and face surges in water pressure. “That’s not what it was designed to do.”
He added that the company used sensors in the Titan’s hull Assess the condition of a carbon fiber composite hull.In its advertising materialOceanGate points to these sensors as an innovative feature for “hull health monitoring”.Earlier this year, an academic expert describe The system “provides sufficient time for the pilot to arrest the descent and return to the ground safely”.
Contrary to the company, Cameron called it an “alert system” that lets the submersible’s pilot know “if the hull is about to implode”.
Mr Cameron said the sensor network on the submarine’s hull was not an adequate solution to what he believed to be an inherently flawed design.
“It’s not like a car with lights that come on when it’s low on gas,” he said of the network of sensors on the hull. “It’s different.”