Two Canadian agencies announced plans on Saturday to look into the circumstances surrounding the deadly implosion of a submersible near the wreckage of the Titanic, with the Transportation Safety Board already moving ahead with a full investigation.
Board officials said they planned to probe “all aspects” that led to the implosion of the Titan Submersible, which was destroyed with five people aboard off the coast of Newfoundland. They said that process got underway on Saturday as investigators began interviewing the crew and some family members on board the Canadian-flagged Polar Prince soon after it docked near the Canadian Coast Guard building in St. John’s.
The vessel, owned by the Miawpukek First Nation in southern Newfoundland, had towed the doomed Titan to the Titanic site about 700 kilometres south of the provincial capital and had helped to launch it on its dive last Sunday.
Cliff Harvey, the TSB’s director of marine investigations, said his agency would conduct a comprehensive review of what happened.
“We are looking at all aspects including any vessels that were used, the registration, the construction, the ownership,” he said at a news conference.
TSB chair Kathy Fox said the main thrust of the “Canadian investigation” is to examine safety issues and what might be done to prevent a similar incident in the future. She added the investigation will not determine whether there is any evidence of criminal or civil wrongdoing.
But the RCMP announced Saturday that they would be launching a preliminary probe of their own to determine if a criminal investigation is necessary.
Supt. Kent Osmond said the force typically examines sudden or unexpected deaths at sea, including those in international waters. He acknowledged the Titan case is unique, noting that it was unlike anything he’d seen in his policing career of more than three decades.
He hesitated to give an estimate of when the initial probe might conclude, adding that the investigation will likely be complex.
“All of the agencies that will be involved have different mandates and different investigational goals,” Osmond said. “We will be working with them and there are probably junctures where our investigations will probably intersect.”
Fox said in addition to conducting interviews, a TSB team was also collecting details from the Polar Prince’s voyage data recorder and other systems that contain “useful information.”
“At this point we are not in a position to provide specific details about the occurrence or about the investigation that are not already in the public domain,” Fox said.
She said TSB investigations can typically take anywhere from 18 months to two years.
“We obviously try to do them quicker because we know everybody wants answers, particularly the families and the public,” said Fox, adding there are provisions in the international maritime code for collaboration with other investigative agencies.
The Titan lost contact with the Polar Prince about an hour and 45 minutes into its descent to the wreck of the Titanic, almost four kilometres below the surface of the sea.
All five passengers and crew were declared dead Thursday soon after a team guiding a remotely operated vehicle spotted the Titan’s wreckage about 500 metres from the bow of the sunken luxury liner.
The overall investigation could eventually involve several countries. Titan owner OceanGate Expeditions is based in the United States, the submersible was registered in the Bahamas and those killed in the possible implosion hailed from England, Pakistan, France and the U.S.
Stockton Rush, the company’s CEO, was piloting the submersible, which carried British billionaire Hamish Harding, French explorer and Titanic expert Paul-Henry Nargeolet and Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his 19-year-old son, Suleman as passengers.
The U.S. Coast Guard in Boston said Saturday that it was still directing resources at the search scene, while remotely operated vehicles were continuing to map the debris field.
“A timeline for future debris recovery and asset demobilization has not been established,” Lt. Anne McGoldrick said in an email.
Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2023.
– With files from Keith Doucette in Halifax and the Associated Press