People are ignoring the human suffering of OceanGate’s Titan disaster

I’ve been asked about the Titan Submersible catastrophe. My view? It’s quickly become a media sensation, but people are seemingly ignoring the human tragedy

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you'll have clocked the media’s endless and rabid coverage of OceanGate’s Titan submersible disaster – an accident that claimed the lives of five individuals during a high-risk dive to RMS Titanic.

Although the worst-case scenario has now been confirmed and broadcast to an audience of global observance, the subject matter won’t be disappearing from headlines anytime soon.

As investigations and opinions rage on, examinations and outright speculation will only fuel subsequent media coverage – especially as the story generates incredible interest, courtesy of our continuing fascination with RMS Titanic.

And, of course, with experts – including underwater fanatic James Cameron – laying claim to statements where OceanGate and CEO Stockton Rush cut corners that effectively fast-tracked the deaths of the Titanic five, suddenly everyone’s an authority voice.

Overnight, keyboard warriors masquerading as industry experts sprouted by the dozen, offering ill-informed judgment or sickening attempts at humour.

Through the press scrum and uproar of online activity, the sense of tragedy and human suffering has been largely diluted – courtesy of the media’s feverish bid for viewers through sensationalised headlines and viewpoints.

Yes. It was a tourist expedition and, yes, such a venture remains exclusive to those with money to burn, but there’s a brewing tone that ultimately discards any notion that these people were human, with families and dependants.

A basic narrative consensus can be detected where, because it cost US$250,000 per person to descend upon the wreck of RMS Titanic in a submersible that was controversial, to say the least, passengers were therefore stupid and deserved their ghastly fate.

And now, to add insult to injury, people are beginning to mock the situation and those unfortunate victims. If you head over to OceanGate Expeditions' Facebook page, each and every post – stretching from the harrowing official statement confirming recent deaths to more successful events from previous years – has been hijacked by online trolls.

Tasteless memes and harsh comments from anonymous users appear to be gathering pace, creating a real danger that the fateful event will soon become an easy-picking comedic option for those seeking online attention.

If anything, the internet gives people a platform for being as 'edgy' as they can, without fear of any real consequence, and people have recently exercised that 'right' and gone to town on the Titan situation.

Social media is the biggest double-edged sword of our time; the regurgitated postings that I’ve witnessed demonstrate a complete lack of compassion and understanding. And if I find these posts upsetting, goodness only knows how anyone directly impacted by the disaster must feel.

The Titan submersible photographed on June 1st, 2023. Credit: OceanGate Expeditions

Human suffering

Despite all the noise and observations and self-indulgent opinions; people seem to be forgetting that five individuals perished – leaving behind bereaved friends and devastated families.

As if that suffering wasn’t quite enough for those left behind, throughout the rescue efforts, a well-publicised ticking clock injected extra anxiety.

Titan’s onboard oxygen supplies were capable of sustaining life for no longer than 96 hours, and the world was watching – some with genuine care, others with a morbid wish for bad news. That level of mental anguish remains unutterable, especially as time pushed beyond those final minutes towards the 96-hour barrier and beyond.

Relatives, colleagues and friends could only stare as news became official once wreckage had been found; their loved ones had undoubtedly succumbed to the vast dangers of deep-sea exploration.

Death may have been instantaneous and suffering, therefore, kept to a bare minimum, but with the effects of an implosion at such depths, there is little hope of returning loved ones for burial – there will be no closure. For a parent, there is no greater pain.

Atop that stress, platforms were awash with backlash against the rescue efforts. As each and every news report strained to point out, the high-paying passengers onboard Titan were wealthy and privileged. Billionaires, even.

Embittered criticism came quickly, as ships and aircraft from various nations sped towards the last known movements of OceanGate’s submersible, at considerable expense.

Some claimed that rescue efforts wouldn’t have been so concentrated or heroic or costly should the passengers have been working class or only mere researchers, whereas others made obscene notions towards bias over international news.

As Christine Dawood, the wife of passenger Shahzada Dawood – who also took his 19-year-old son, Suleman, along for the journey – sat with her daughter on the search boat to await fearful news, loud opinions were being posted (on LinkedIn, of all places) that basically stated: [Shahzada] Dawood was rich, he deserved to die.

Subsequent LinkedIn posts then berated anyone who felt the ‘billionaires’ deserved any form of liberation from the deep. Comparisons were made between the huge loss of life caused by the Greek migrant vessel (which simultaneously occurred during the same time frame as Titan’s implosion) and the ‘relatively low loss of life’ caused by OceanGate’s “corner cutting.”

Absurd efforts to trivialise the Titan rescue operation underline a complete lack of understanding. Money doesn’t come into it on an emotional level. Regardless of whether someone comes from a privileged or disadvantaged background, human progress is measured by the value placed on a life; any life – not one classified by wealth or lack thereof.

Declaring that “after paying a lot for the thrill of sightseeing a very old sunken ship,” somehow, we should feel anger towards the wealthy clientele of OceanGate and feel smug regarding their demise, exhibits a dangerous social attitude.

The value placed on the Titanic five, and the migrants who died in Greece, remain humanity’s current value. It defines our era, and it’s highlighted how embittered and divided our society currently is.

We are in real danger of losing sight of the humanitarian aspects of, what is by definition, a disaster. Especially as the über-detailed Titan investigation filters into our news feed and the finger of blame is cranked towards various individuals within OceanGate.

The company’s dirty laundry has already been aired in public, and it’s set to intensify, talking about the dead as though they were commodities. Their names will be discussed as evidence, rather than as human beings.

While all that is going on, families and friends of those lost to the Titan submersible are suffering indescribable and ongoing grief – just as those left behind by the sinking of RMS Titanic suffered 111 years ago.

Put all the media humph to one side and steer clear of the opinion-slinging. Don't become brainwashed by the gutter press, and avoid the trolls.

Remember that people are hurting. Their world has been turned upside down. Before you cast inconsequential judgement over a situation you cannot hope to ever fully understand, let the investigators do their work.

And let the families grieve.

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About Calum Brown

Calum holds a deep interest in all things heritage and remains one of Britain’s most enthusiastic historians.

As a seasoned journalist, he has spent considerable time abroad and relishes all forms of transport. Shipping is in the blood, with a family connection to Stena Line embedded in his DNA. He also refuses to admit that 21st Century music exists.

Calum has developed a skill for bringing history alive, and always insists on making heritage accessible for everyone.