Janet Street-Porter: After the Titan tragedy, now is the time to stop extreme tourism

Janet Street-Porter: After the Titan tragedy, now is the time to stop extreme tourism

Don’t think that the Titan disaster was a single one. According to marine experts, the huge growth in ‘extreme tourism’ means we will see more deaths, not less. And at what cost?

My heart goes out to the families and friends of the five lost on the Titanic’s spectacular voyage that began last Sunday, Father’s Day. On board the Sub Titan were Stockton Rush, owner of the Oceangate expedition, Paul-Henri Nargiolet, a renowned underwater pilot, and three wealthy tourists (a father and his anxious 19-year-old son) who paid £195,000 for a 9-hour trip to see the world’s most famous wreck.

After their ship went missing late Sunday night, an international rescue operation coordinated by the US Coast Guard was quickly assembled. Ships and aircraft carry highly specialized equipment to the area south of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Experts came from Canada, USA and France. Billion-pound submersibles, underwater robots, deep-sea rescue systems, not to mention their operators, doctors and medical teams, are all frantically searching for signs of life.

Many of these marine specialists typically work on underwater cables or scientific expeditions. Now they are rescuing tourists, a situation that would have been unimaginable even a decade ago.

With the discovery of five pieces of debris from the Titan yesterday, we know that the people aboard died tragically.

Submersible pilot Randy Holt, right, communicates with the support boat as he and Stockton Rush, left, CEO and co-founder of Oceangate, dive aboard the company’s submersible.

The Titan submersible, operated by the Oceangate Expedition to explore the wreckage of the sunken SS Titanic, which blew up on Sunday

Ten years ago, wealthy tourists sought their thrills in Africa shooting rare animals, climbing Everest, K2 or navigating the upper reaches of the Amazon. But dangerous adventure is a headache medicine, and these days the ‘ultimate experience’ is the goal of top tourists chasing their dreams.

Rich men and women want to go to the moon courtesy of Elon Musk or Richard Branson. They want to meet protected tribes in South America or Papua New Guinea. They crave life-changing memories gleaned from dangerous confrontations, not the ones the rest of us have on a sunny beach or quiet cottage.

Janet Street-Porter

In short, they are thrill seekers, and when things go wrong, ordinary workers such as oil industry divers, naval doctors, tanker pilots and marine engineers have to come to the rescue of these modern day ‘adventurers’.

To be honest, the term ‘researchers’ is misleading, as they are not (usually) experts in research that will benefit mankind. They are not holidaymakers, Christopher Columbus or Jacques Cousteau.

Unfortunately, the wreck of the Titanic has replaced a white tiger or a rare panther as the ultimate thrill-seeker’s target. Ever since the liner sank in 1912, taking 1500 passengers and crew to their final resting place 12,500 feet below sea level off the coast of Newfoundland, there have been books, movies and conspiracy theories about what could have caused the tragedy. The most famous image of that fateful night in 1912 is a gloriously over-the-top movie starring Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio, whose theme tune was Celine Dion’s Tune My Heart Will Go On.

Titanic movie director James Cameron, an avid diver, has visited the site some 33 times. He owns a company that manufactures submersibles and is interested in marine exploration. Cameron said he would have advised passengers not to travel on the Titan because the ship had not been adequately tested.

When modern ‘exploration’ is conducted by commercial (ie for profit) companies that don’t go through rigorous financial scrutiny or technical testing, there must be all sorts of risks.

Rich men and women want to go to the moon courtesy of Elon Musk (pictured) or Richard Branson

British multi-millionaire Richard Branson points to other hot air balloons flying over the city of Marrakesh.

OceanGate planned the Titanic voyage from 2018, and dives in 2021 and 2022. Although the ship’s body was made of titanium and carbon fiber to withstand the pressures of depth or 13,000 feet, many parts – such as the handles and lights – were off-the-shelf components and were controlled by an adaptive off-the-shelf Logitech game controller. Which can be bought on Amazon for just £42!

While Oceangate CEO Stockton Rush claimed he was confident in his ‘experimental’ system that uses touch screens to navigate and communicate, others weren’t so sure. A reporter from an earlier visit in 2020 said they lost contact for two and a half hours and he panicked. Passengers are asked to sign documents that acknowledge the risk of death – but were passengers fully aware of any technical glitch last Sunday?

A German tourist who traveled in 2021 said it felt ‘like a suicide mission’ after his expedition to the ruins was delayed by five hours due to electrical problems.

OceanGate’s Director of Marine Operations called for more testing on the Titan, and 36 leading marine experts signed a letter to submit the sub to rigorous testing. In the event, the ship was only certified at 1,300 meters, much less than the depth of the Titanic’s wreckage.

It seems that Oceangate is offering discounts to other ‘adventurers’ to make these trips more viable. But potential travelers are very different from rich, white businessmen and bankers (of a certain age), professional astronauts, mountaineers or divers who train for months, so they are in peak condition during extreme physical activity.

And what about the stress involved in making such an extreme journey in a confined space? Titanic’s journey to Oceangate involved lying in a narrow tube for nine hours. It will take more than two and a half hours to descend to a depth of 13,000 feet so passengers can spend an hour or more on their way to the burial site. The ship had little food, only basic toilet facilities and only 96 hours of oxygen.

The idea of ​​visiting the Titanic for tourism is repugnant and disrespectful to the relatives of those who lie beneath the sea, and many would like to see all future tours banned.

Last Sunday, the trip was delayed due to bad weather, and then contact was lost two and a half hours later. It took several more hours before anyone knew a disaster was unfolding and called for help.

Extreme tourists have confirmed that the once pristine slopes of Everest are now littered with poo bags, discarded equipment and dead bodies. Let’s exercise greater control over the exploration of unique places on our planet so we don’t experience another Triton disaster. And many other rules about who pays for rescue operations.

Beautiful mountains must be respected, they are not the playground of the rich. Soon, the atmosphere around Earth will be littered with space debris from astronauts taking fun trips to see the moon.

And those poor souls who lay aboard the Titanic need to be left in peace.

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