OceanGate suspends all exploration and commercial operations

US-based OceanGate, manager of tourist submersible Titan, which imploded during a dive to inspect the wreck of the Titanic – killing all five on board – has suspended all of its exploration and commercial operations with immediate effect. A banner at the top of its website stated only that “OceanGate has suspended all exploration and commercial operations”.

OceanGate had planned two 2024 expeditions to wreck of the Titanic ruins.

US Coast Guard investigators are coordinating a multi-national investigation into the loss of the Titan. Evidence of past problems with the submersible have continued to emerge in the media. Documentary footage from a trip in 2022, when a BBC reporter took a dive to the Titanic wreck site with OceanGate Expeditions shows that the pilot of the submersible lost control of the thrusters, and the minisub began to spin.

“There’s something wrong with my thrusters,” pilot Scott Griffith can be heard saying. The sub’s thrusters had been mounted improperly, and one was pointing in the wrong direction. This caused Titan to spin in circles when thrust was applied. The sub was forced to wait on the bottom for hours while co-founder and CEO Stockton Rush – who was standing by on the support vessel on the surface – personally worked on troubleshooting the issue. Passenger Reneta Rojas told the BBC that “I was thinking, we’re not going to make it”. In that incident pilot Griffith reprogrammed the off-the-shelf wireless game controller that Rush had chosen to use as the sub’s primary navigation interface. The adjustment worked, and the sub and its passengers proceeded to view the Titanic wreck site.

Meanwhile, deep-dive submersible expert Rob McCallum told the New Yorker that he ended his ties with OceanGate in 2018 over safety concerns. He did not approve of the (lack of) redundancy in the design, and warned that “there were multiple points of failure” including the wireless controller. He said that he raised these concerns with Rush, but was rebuffed.

CEO Rush was also reported to have fired the chief pilot and operations director David Lochridge after Lochridge raised similar concerns, including what Lochridge described as “very visible signs of delamination and porosity” in the carbon-fibre pressure hull.

The New Yorker reported that Rush asked the firm’s finance director to take over as chief sub pilot after he fired Lochridge, which the finance director said had “freaked him out” because “my background is in accounting”.

Rush piloted the submersible on its final dive. He was among the five victims.