Issue 154
July 9, 2023
_____ _ ___ _ _ __ __ _ _ _ _____ _ |_ _|| |__ ___ / _ \ | |_ | |__ ___ _ __ | \/ | __ _ _ __ (_)| |_ (_) _ __ ___ ___ |_ _|_ __ __ _ __ _ ___ __| | _ _ | | | '_ \ / _ \ | | | || __|| '_ \ / _ \| '__| | |\/| | / _` || '__|| || __|| || '_ ` _ \ / _ \ | | | '__|/ _` | / _` | / _ \ / _` || | | | | | | | | || __/ | |_| || |_ | | | || __/| | | | | || (_| || | | || |_ | || | | | | || __/ | | | | | (_| || (_| || __/| (_| || |_| | |_| |_| |_| \___| \___/ \__||_| |_| \___||_| |_| |_| \__,_||_| |_| \__||_||_| |_| |_| \___| |_| |_| \__,_| \__, | \___| \__,_| \__, | |___/ |___/

On June 18th a submersible called Titan, operated by the private company OceanGate, was deployed ~400 nautical miles off Newfoundland, Canada, in the North Atlantic Ocean. The submersible, bound for the Titanic shipwreck some 12,500 feet deep, was carrying four tourists and a pilot. By now, just about everybody knows Titan never reached its intended destination; it imploded a few hundred feet from the sunken ship. The accidents probable cause was a catastrophic hull failure under immense deep-sea pressure.

(The deepest part of the ocean is called the Mariana Trench, located in the Pacific Ocean, a few hundred kilometers southwest of Guam. It is ~36,000 feet deep. Only three people have ever reached those depths. In 1960, Lieutenant Don Walsh of the U.S. Navy and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard made the trip in a specially designed submersible called the Trieste. In 2012, explorer and filmmaker James Cameron visited solo in a 24 ft craft called the Deepsea Challenger. At those depths, the atmospheric pressure is approximately 16,000 pounds per square inch (PSI) compared to just under 15 lbs per square inch at sea level.)

The tragedy of the Titan received extensive coverage from major news organizations in America and around the world. We learned the names of the passengers, what they did for a living, and their life stories. We heard from former passengers who described the Titan submersible as shoddily built, piloted with off-the-shelf parts, including a video game console. There were reports of past structural issues and numerous former missions were aborted.

Stockton Rush, the CEO of OceanGate, piloted the Titan. Posthumously, Rush has been scrutinized for his cavalier attitude towards safety including shrugging off generally accepted maritime safety protocols. Hamish Harding was a British billionaire, explorer, and CEO of Action Aviation, an aircraft broker. Shahzada Dawood was a member of one of Pakistan’s wealthiest families and owner of a business conglomerate called Engro joined the expedition along with his 19-year-old son, Suleman. Paul-Henri Nargeolet, the former director of Michigan State University’s Center for Maritime & Underwater Resource Management, a trained professional in deep-sea salvage, Titanic expert, and the first to retrieve artifacts from the ship in 1987, was aboard.

News agencies emphasized that all the passengers were either phenomenally wealthy or related to people who were and reserving a spot on the Titan cost $250,000.

We learned that Titan lost contact with its support ship ~2 hours into its descent, and OceanGate informed authorities later that day. We knew that an internationally coordinated rescue effort spearheaded by the U.S and Canadian Navies, U.S. Coastguard, and private vessels tried to locate Titan. We learned that specialized equipment from France and the UK was deployed to find the submersible along with reconnaissance planes and the most advanced sonar equipment in the world. We learned that rescue efforts continued for several days despite a top-secret Navy sonar device detecting a noise consistent with an implosion around the reported time of the Titan's disappearance.

The search and rescue mission captured the attention of people worldwide.

The Other Maritime Tragedy

Around the same time the Titan disembarked, an overcrowded fishing boat carrying ~700 desperate migrants sank in the Mediterranean Sea. Many of these migrants had parted with their savings in search of a better life. Estimates suggest that up to 500 people drowned in this incident, making it the second-worst recorded accident of its kind. (The worst occurred in 2015 when a vessel capsized in the Mediterranean, sending ~1,100 migrants to their deaths.)

The doomed boat disembarked from Egypt and picked up its human cargo in Libya, its final destination, Italy. It never arrived. The boat sank after its engine failed.

What transpired between when the vessel lost its engine and its undoing is a matter of dispute. The Greek coast guard intercepted the boat and was escorting it for hours up until it lost power. Greek authorities claim despite offering help multiple times, the migrants were reluctant to accept aid because their objective was to reach Italy. Critics argue the Greek coastguard could have and should have done more to aid the migrants and that their inaction was a violation of general maritime safety protocol.

The Media: Rich Lives Matter More

If you’re hearing about this tragedy for the first time, you are not alone. Or perhaps you remember reading about it in an obscure location of your morning paper or after a few click-throughs away from your preferred homepage.

The story of the Titan was undoubtedly newsworthy. However, it is striking that the tragedy involving the Titan received significantly more news coverage than the Mediterranean incident, which resulted in the loss of up to 100 times more lives. Is the demise of five individuals, four of whom willingly paid a fraction of their net worth to embark on a risky adventure to a shipwreck, more remarkable than the deaths of 500 people who risked everything, including their life savings, to be trafficked on a dangerous boat in pursuit of prosperity and opportunity in Europe?

We can reach various conclusions about the media's obsession with those of privilege who did not survive the Titan’s journey to the Titanic. The less cynical view would suggest that the wealthy are no different from the rest of us and susceptible to calamity. A more skeptical perspective, which appears to be the case here, is a deification of the wealthy highlighting their misfortune because ironically, that is where fortune in news is found.

The media often report on the inequities in society and the widening gap between rich and poor, however their disproportionate coverage of these two maritime tragedies paradoxically contributes to the marginalization of the underprivileged.

Migrants & The Mediterranean

What happened off the coast of Nova Scotia was an anomaly; what happened in the Mediterranean Sea was not. Every year thousands of migrants drown in the Mediterranean Sea. Official numbers are probably too low because if drowning victims are not found, they are not counted as deceased. According to Statista Research “between 2014 and 2018, about 12 thousand people who drowned (in the Mediterranean) were never found.”

We will never learn their names, what they did for a living, their life stories, their desperation, or why they paid to be trafficked on dangerous boats to cross an unforgiving sea with no assurance of success. Their respective situations must have been horrific if their calculus was to risk death.

The Titanic

In our view, the Titanic should be off-limits to all except academics, scientists, marine biologists, and other qualified individuals with research-based objectives. It is grossly insensitive to view the Titanic as a tourist destination or high-risk adventure for the wealthy seeking to check an item off their bucket list. The Titanic sank only ~100 years ago. Fifteen hundred people died. We must respect the dead and their family members and not turn their tragedy into a spectacle.


On July 7th OceanGate announced the suspension of all business operations and exploration. Unfortunately, smugglers will undoubtedly continue their business operations and many more migrants will die.

If news coverage was proportionate to the loss of life, it may translate into more resources allocated and better policies enacted to assist those seeking asylum and curtail this humanitarian crisis.

Eftychia Georgiadi of the International Rescue Committee charity said, “Nobody embarks on these treacherous journeys unless they feel they have no other option.” We hope this blog post will spur news organizations worldwide into action.