OceanGate Was Warned of Potentially 'Catastrophic' Problems

Former OceanGate employee said he was fired in 2018 after voicing concerns
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 20, 2023 5:35 PM CDT
OceanGate Faced Safety Complaints Years Ago
A crane truck and a boat with OceanGate logos are parked near the offices of the company in Everett, Wash., Tuesday, June 20, 2023.   (AP Photo/Ed Komenda)

As search and rescue teams raced against time Tuesday to find the missing Titan submersible, news emerged on the long history of concerns about OceanGate Expeditions' experimental vessel. In 2018, leaders of a submersible craft trade group wrote to OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush—who is one of the five people in the Titan—warning that there were potentially "catastrophic" problems with the vessel's development, the New York Times reports. The Manned Underwater Vehicles committee of the Marine Technology Society noted that despite "misleading" marketing, the company had no plans to have the Titan examined by a risk assessment agency before it launched tours to the wreckage of the Titanic.

The letter was signed by three dozen people, including deep-sea explorers and oceanographers as well as company execs. "The submersible industry had significant concerns over the strategy of building a deep sea expedition submersible without following existing classification safety guidelines," committee chairman Will Kohnen tells the Times. He says Rush later called him and complained that regulations were stifling innovation in the sector. Also in 2018, an OceanGate employee was fired after refusing to sign off on manned tests of the vessel over safety concerns, according to court documents seen by the New Republic.

According to the documents, OceanGate sued submersible pilot David Lochridge after he voiced his concerns and then sued him for disclosing confidential information about the vessel. In a counterclaim alleging wrongful termination, Lochridge said the company fired him to silence him and "avoid addressing the safety and quality control issue" he had highlighted. Lochridge had called for non-destructive testing of the vessel's hull and "stressed the potential danger to passengers of the Titan as the submersible reached extreme depths," court documents state. "The constant pressure cycling weakens existing flaws resulting in large tears of the carbon." (Read more Titanic stories.)

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