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Remember The Titanics

After colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage, the infamous RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912, a hundred years ago yesterday. The sinking caused the deaths of more than fifteen hundred people in one of the deadliest maritime disasters in history that was not the result of war. She sailed away with more than twenty two hundred people onboard. She left Southampton, United Kingdom on April 10, 1912. On April 14, 1912, she was steered into the path of an iceberg that delivered a glancing blow to the ship’s hull at 11:40 pm ship’s time that caused the ship’s hull plates to buckle along her starboard side and opened five of her watertight compartments to the sea. The ship was designed to withstand a breach in a maximum of four of these compartments. Over the next two and a half hours the ship filled with water. Just before 2:20 AM on April 15th, the Titanic succumbed to the ocean and sank to her grave on the seabed more than two miles beneath the surface.

The Titanic carried a total of twenty lifeboats with a total capacity to save about twelve hundred people on a ship that was carrying almost twice that number. But despite that, only a little more than just seven hundred of her passengers survived the sinking. Titanic was designed with the capacity to carry more than sixty lifeboats which would have been enough for four thousand people. However management at the White Star Line decided the ship would sail with only twenty lifeboats to accommodate only a third of the ship’s maximum capacity. At the time she sailed, regulations required British vessels of Titanic’s size to carry a minimum of sixteen lifeboats with a capacity of a thousand occupants. The White Star Line actually provided more lifeboats than it was legally required.

Captain Edward John Smith of the Titanic received a series of warnings from other ships of drifting ice in the path on the ship’s course. But the ship continued to steam at full speed, which was standard procedure at the time. It was believed that ice posed little danger to large vessels and Captain Smith had declared that he could not imagine any sea condition that could threaten his ship. The Titanic and her sister ships were advertised as built to be unsinkable. And just like today, back then people believed that if a marketing agency said it then you could rest assured that it was true.

The passengers and crew on the massive ship were not prepared for the fate that befell it. The crew had not been trained adequately in carrying out an emergency evacuation. The officers had no clue as to how many people they could safely put on a lifeboat. Many lifeboats were launched at barely half their capacity. Third class passengers were left to fend for themselves and were trapped below decks as the ship went under. Hundreds of people went into the water and were killed either by hypothermia from exposure to the freezing water, heart attack from the exertion of their ordeal, or drowned. Only thirteen of the people who went into the water were rescued by one of the lifeboats even though they had enough room for another five hundred of the doomed passengers.

Before survivors could arrive in New York, Titanic’s destination, investigations were being planned to discover what had happened, and what could be done to prevent a recurrence. The United States Senate initiated an inquiry into the disaster on April 19, the day after rescued passengers arrived on the Carpathia. The two inquiries reached a similar conclusion that the maritime regulations in place were inadequate and out of date, Captain Smith had failed to take proper heed of ice warnings, the lifeboats had not been properly crewed, and the collision with the iceberg was the direct result of steaming too fast into a dangerous area. Recommendations included new safety measures such as ensuring that sufficient lifeboats were provided, that lifeboat drills be conducted on a regular basis, and that communication equipment be manned around the clock as a ship travels.

The regulations implemented after the Titanic disaster no doubt helped to cut down on maritime fatalities and travel by ship is much safer. Left to their own devices a corporation like the White Star Line would rather do the minimum required to assure the safety of its employees (the crew) and/or its customers (the passengers). If a regulation said sixteen lifeboats were mandatory and the company invested in twenty, they’d say that they went above and beyond what was legally mandated, even though ethically they would have needed forty lifeboats to assure every passenger’s safety. Relying on a regulation that required lifeboats for a thousand passengers back in the day when the maximum capacity for ships was a thousand passengers doesn’t make sense when ship capacity is upped to four thousand passengers.

But if the White Star Line was in operation today they would probably be complaining that job killing government regulations are impairing their ability to operate. They would be much more efficient if they could operate their company without the big brother of government looking over their shoulder in order to assure regulation compliance to passenger and crew safety. The company would do its best to assure the public that safety is their utmost priority. But the problem is that previous behavior proves that safety is not a corporation’s priority and is often left wanting with disastrous consequences. We have seen this happen with corporations over and over again. We saw it when the White Star Line launched Titanic on her maiden voyage. We saw it when Ford decided that it was more profitable to let people burn to death with exploding Pintos instead of correcting a known design flaw. We saw it when the tobacco industry continued to defend cigarettes saying there was no link between them and lung cancer even though they knew otherwise. We saw it when the automobile industry fought tooth and nail to keep government from mandating that airbag restraint systems become standard equipment in passenger cars. We saw it when the meat industry refused to implement safe operating practices for its employees or for its product without being forced to do so under federal government regulations. We have seen cows stumble into the slaughter house obviously suffering from the affects of mad cow disease but are added to the food supply anyway. We see it over and over again when corporations argue that regulations meant to keep water and air clean, food safe, toxins away from our children, consumer products safe, working conditions safe, and other things that we take for granted because they have worked to protect us and to assure that corporations don’t use their massive resources to take advantage of a trusting public.

No one would say that we need to reverse regulations that were put in place after the Titanic disaster. To go back to exposing ourselves to unnecessary dangers simply to make a corporation more profitable would be to turn our backs on the people who lost their lives in an accident that was so easily avoidable and to make their sacrifice worthless. There was a reason those regulations were put in place. Without regulations, more people would perish unnecessarily because we simply trusted a company to do the right thing. But a company isn’t in business to do the right thing. A company is in business to make money. And it’s well understood that one way to make money is to cut corners. Regulations help keep corners from being cut and people from being sacrificed in corporation’s single minded pursuit to make money.

Monday, April 16, 2012 - Posted by | Life, Thoughts |

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