Multiple warnings were issued to OceanGate, the company behind the missing tourist vessel, before its launch
OceanGate, the company behind the submarine which lost contact whilst on a tourist expedition to explore the Titanic wreckage in the North Atlantic, was repeatedly warned about major safety issues due to the way it was developed, news agency Associated Press reports.
The submersible was carrying five people including British Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his son, Suleman, along with British billionaire Hamish Harding, French diver Paul Henry Nargeolet and OceanGate Expeditions CEO Stockton Rush.
Dawood is the vice chairman of Engro Corporation, one of Pakistan’s largest conglomerates with investments in fertilisers, vehicle manufacturing, energy and digital technologies. According to the website of California-based research institute SETI, of which he is a trustee, he resides in Britain with his wife and two children.
The US Coast Guard, US Navy and Canadian Coast Guard have been scrambling to search for the missing submarine since it became apparent that something had gone wrong after it lost contact one hour and 45 minutes into the journey to the deep ocean floor. However, with a limited supply of oxygen, and assuming that the vessel is still intact, it is a race against time for rescuers who have deemed the scenario as ‘finding a needle in a haystack’.
As of Wednesday, 21 June, it was reported that Canadian aircraft detected underwater noises, however, the vehicle could not be found.
According to a lawsuit filed in 2018 at the U.S. District Court in Seattle, David Lochridge, OceanGate’s director of marine operations, had written an engineering report that year when the craft was still under development, stating that it needed more testing and that passengers’ lives might be endangered when it reached “extreme depths”.
Lochridge was sued by the company for breaching a non-disclosure agreement and he filed a counterclaim alleging that he was wrongfully fired for pointing out problems with testing and safety. The case was settled several months later on terms that were never disclosed.
In a statement sent by email, a spokesperson for OceanGate confirmed that the missing vessel was made in the period between 2020 and 2021, so it was not the same one that has been mentioned in the lawsuit.
OceanGate Chief Executive Stockton Rush, in a conference speech in Seattle last year had said that after further testing the hull of the craft, it was found to be making “a lot of noise” as it went deeper, and was thereafter scrapped. The task to build another one was then given to an aerospace supplier.
Another warning was issued to OceanGate in 2018 by Marine Technology Society, a professional group of ocean engineers, technologists, policy-makers and educators, who had written a letter to Rush.
They had told the CEO that it was of utmost importance for the team to have its prototype evaluated through tests conducted by an expert third party before it is launched, which would help protect the lives of the passengers.
However, according to Associated Press, Rush refused to listen to the suggestion. He is also said to be piloting the doomed vessel.
In a 2019 interview with Smithsonian magazine, Rush had said, “There hasn’t been an injury in the commercial sub industry in over 35 years.” He added, “It’s obscenely safe because they have all these regulations. But it also hasn’t innovated or grown — because they have all these regulations.”