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A Whistleblower Warned Missing Experimental Ship Was Not Safe for Titanic Depths

Posted  June 21, 2023

On June 18, 2023, a submersible ship lost communications and went missing in the Atlantic Ocean on its mission to the Titanic wreckage with four tourists and a pilot onboard. The vessel, named “Titan,” was constructed and operated by OceanGate, an extreme marine exploration company.

Five years before Titan went missing, whistleblower David Lochridge, OceanGate’s former director of marine operations, claims he repeatedly raised concerns that the carbon fiber hull on the ship was not certified for Titanic depths, and urged the company to conform to industry standards for similar vessels.

After the company ignored his warnings, Lochridge says he presented a blistering quality control report to OceanGate’s senior management highlighting possible weaknesses in the hull and inadequate acoustic sensor technology, which is meant to alert passengers to “potential danger [] as the submersible reached extreme depths.” He further claimed OceanGate had reportedly refused to fund the construction of a viewport, or window, certified for the required depth.

Lochridge alleged in an employment retaliation case that instead of addressing his concerns or undergoing corrective action to ensure the safety of the experimental ship, OceanGate immediately fired him. OceanGate allegedly gave Lochridge “approximately 10 minutes to immediately clear out his desk and exit the premises.” OceanGate and Lochridge settled the case in 2018.

That same year, several industry leaders, oceanographers, and deep-sea explorers expressed grave concern in a letter to OceanGate’s chief executive, who is piloting the missing vessel, warning among other things that that the company’s decision to forgo a traditional rating or certification assessment could lead to potentially “catastrophic” problems with the Titanic mission.

This is a developing story, and it is not yet known whether Titan imploded, as some experts have suspected, and as Lochridge feared in 2018 was a serious risk, or if it is floating adrift, tangled in the wreckage, or any number of possibilities. Either way, this case is a reminder of the essential role that whistleblowers play in ensuring safety standards are maintained, particularly in high-stakes environments where a failure to address safety shortcuts can have devastating consequences.

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