Posted on | April 16, 2012 | 1 Comment
The centenary of the sinking of the Titanic on Sunday 15th April is being attended with a curious combination of reverence and the absurd. On the centenary of her departure from Southampton a distinguished party of notables, along with some descendants of Titanic crew and passengers solemnly threw wreaths off the empty quayside in the English passenger port from where the ship had left. A few days earlier a cruise ship with passengers, all of whom seemed to be in strange approximations of Edwardian dress, had left the port bound for the wreck site after retracing the fatal voyage. They were paying top rates for their commemorative voyage.
Endless television programmes, featuring Titanic experts (a highly specialist expertise that nevertheless seems in plentiful supply) discussed, with the benefit of a century’s hindsight, every conceivable aspect, from the construction of the ship to the conduct of the master and the final tunes played by the ship’s musicians. Social anthropologists and left-wing commentators on class have discussed ad infinitum the social balance of the victims and survivors. There doesn’t seem a great deal more to say, although the authors of at least thirty new books on the subject are saying it over several hundred thousand words. The bill for the Titanic’s construction was in the region of £1.5 million. The net worth of the industry that has sprung up around the world’s most famous (or notorious) ship must exceed this by many multiples.
Some contemporary comments on the loss of the great ship were instructive, with the marine profession united in its deprecation of the British board of inquiry’s conclusion that excessive speed in the vicinity of known ice was the principal cause of the loss. The Nautical Magazine railed against the “secret pressure put upon masters to keep up speed”. Joseph Conrad, by 1912 an author of international distinction , commented about the sadness of dying “for commerce”, but added that “….the responsibility remains with the living, who will have no difficulty replacing them by others, just as good, at the same wage…”
Speed of course is responsible for plenty of accidents today, so in this important matter, we seem to have learned little from the Titanic and all those hundreds of casualties in which speed has been a major contributor over the years. It is worth giving the last word on this particular subject to that hugely experienced mariner and author , the late Captain Richard Cahill, who discussed this most famous casualty in his “Disasters at Sea” . “The answer was then and is still today” he noted “that owners are against recklessness as long as it does not put them at a competitive disadvantage. Now there’s the subject for serious debate, once all the commemorations are concluded.