At the time of her maiden and final voyage, RMS Titanic was the most advanced vessel of her day. Proud owner White Star Line thought her unsinkable and set out to show the world their new ship. Little did shipbuilders know that the grand ocean liner’s enduring legacy would not be a new record crossing the Atlantic but a warning to the future. A warning that, while well heeded, could not stop near-tragedies of modern day maritime history.
Out of 840 staterooms, almost half were first-class accommodations. The ship was built for pleasure and beauty. It was filling that order, which would contribute to the loss of life just days after launching Titanic. The ship was designed to hold 32 lifeboats but only 20 were on board.
Cruise line management thought too many lifeboats would take away from the beauty of the ship. The 20 lifeboats on board Titanic could carry a total of 1,178 of the 3,547 passengers the ship might have if fully loaded. On that tragic night in 1912 when Titanic sank, the SS Californian was the closest ship to Titanic and many believe it could have easily rescued all on board. Unfortunately, the radio operator went to sleep not long before Titanic started broadcasting emergency distress messages.
After the Titanic sinking, ships were required to have enough lifeboats for everyone on the ship. Existing ships were refitted in a variety of ways and ship design changed to address safety issues.
The International Convention for the Safety of Life A Sea (SOLAS) is a treaty passed in 1914 in answer to the sinking of the Titanic. It addressed the lifeboat issue along with specifying emergency equipment and procedures including radio watches.
Today, advanced weather forecasting and navigational equipment on cruise ships take advantage of the great strides made possible by modern technology. GPS monitoring allows cruise lines to know where cruise ships are at all times. On-board video surveillance systems keep track of passengers and crew and are often called upon to solve cases of crime at sea.
Today, there are plenty of lifeboats for all passengers and crew. But the near-disaster of Costa Concordia, the ship that was grounded in Italy earlier this year, profess that simply having enough lifeboats may not be the answer. Laid on its side, many of the emergency craft were rendered useless and had it not been for quick-thinking crew members and sheer luck, the number of lives lost could have been far more.
[Flickr photo via scmikeburton]