New map shows Titan submersible debris’ proximity to Titanic wreck
By William J. Broad
The company that possesses the exclusive salvage rights to the Titanic shipwreck and the ship’s artifacts filed in federal court on Saturday a map of the surrounding seabed that shows where searchers found the twisted remains of the Titan submersible.
The map, a mosaic of sonar images that were annotated by experts at the company, RMS Titanic Inc., helps indicate how close the craft was to its intended destination when disaster struck.
The vehicle very likely imploded on the morning of Sunday, June 18, killing all five crew members. RMS Titanic’s director of underwater research was on the last dive of the tourist submersible as a guest of Titan’s owner, OceanGate.
The seabed map, attached to a legal filing as an exhibit, shows the ghostly outline of Titanic’s bow section. It is one of the wreck’s most celebrated features because deep explorers over the decades have revealed the prow and forward railings to be in relatively good repair, standing upright and almost proud in the inky darkness.
In an interview, Brian A. Wainger, a lawyer for the salvor, RMS Titanic Inc., said the map was based on private and public information available to the company. He added that he had shared the seabed map with the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and that neither federal body had conveyed any concerns about the representation’s accuracy.
“This is, we believe, reliable data,” Wainger said.
In his July 8 court filing, Wainger also noted that the Marine Board of Investigation, the arm of the Coast Guard investigating the disaster, will conclude its detective work in roughly 12 to 18 months and then hold a public hearing where witnesses will provide sworn testimony.
The story of the Titanic is well known. After hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage in 1912, the luxury liner broke in two and plunged more than 2 miles through the North Atlantic to its icy bottom.
The Titanic’s wreck was located in 1985, and in 1994 the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, located in Norfolk, Virginia, granted salvage rights to RMS Titanic Inc. As the designated salvor, defined as a person or group engaged in the recovery of a ship or items lost at sea, RMS Titanic is overseen by the court, which has long monitored cases of shipwreck recovery.
Based in Atlanta, the company uses its salvaging operations for a number of purposes, including setting up touring exhibitions of Titanic artifacts.
The map in the company’s filing displays a large dotted circle, labeled “Titan Debris Field,” in an area off to the right, or starboard side, of Titanic’s intact bow section. The map gives no other details, such as the field’s size. The map does, however, call the location approximate. The Coast Guard, when it announced on June 22 that the Titan submersible had suffered a catastrophic implosion, said the debris field lay about 1,600 feet from Titanic’s bow.
Jessica Sanders, president of RMS Titanic, said the seabed map was included in the legal filing as part of the company’s obligation to keep the court informed of its activities and, in this instance, how it had cooperated with the Titan investigation in the hours and days after the submersible went missing.
“We tried to help,” she said in an interview. “We gave them this map” so investigators could better understand the seabed features around the Titanic and thus stand a better chance of separating information about rocks and natural outcroppings from possible evidence of the craft itself or its remains.
Sanders said the map was developed partly by her employee who died in the Titan disaster — Paul-Henri Nargeolet, 77, a French submersible expert and a global authority on the Titanic, who was trying to make his 38th dive to the wreckage. “So part of it was his,” she said, referring to the map. She added that a memorial service for Nargeolet would be held next week in Paris.
Rob McCallum, the founder of EYOS Expeditions, who has led seven trips to the sunken liner, said the map displayed no unexpected features or clues. “Nothing unusual jumps out,” he said in an interview. The wreckage of the Titan submersible, he added, “is essentially where it was supposed to be.”