The Titanic Chronicles: 100 Years Ago Today

TitanicThe story of RMS Titanic, immortalized by the 1997 James Cameron film of the same name, is a lasting one. Bringing the story to theaters in a blockbuster hit, enhanced and re-released this month, gave the story life long after so many had died at sea. Now, footage of recent maritime events, including the grounding of Costa Concordia and fires aboard other ships, brought home a realism no film could match. Still, the fate of Titanic still holds as the worst maritime disaster ever, one that occurred on this day, 100 years ago.

11:40 p.m. on April 15, 1912 was a Sunday and the maiden voyage of RMS Titanic was well underway. Earlier in the day, radio messages received warned of icebergs in the ship’s path but were ignored. That night, a lookout cried “Iceberg, right ahead!” but the ship could not avoid a collision. That iceberg ran down the right side of the ship causing fatal damage to what was believed to be an unsinkable vessel.

Just after Midnight, the ship’s captain ordered lifeboats into the water in what had to be his most difficult decision ever.

Still today, the Captain is referred to as the Master of the Vessel. Still today, he or she has a great many lives to be responsible for. In January, it was Captain Francisco Schettino who gave the abandon ship order for Costa Concordia.

In April of 1912, it was Captain Edward J. Smith as the master of Titanic who was fully aware of the iceberg warnings that had been received via radio days before the tragedy. To insure safety, even back then, Smith charted a new course, slightly south of the original plan, to avoid icebergs.But radio was a new thing then and the focus was on relaying messages sent to and from the ship by passengers or those on land. Earlier in the day of that fateful night in 1912 – 100 years ago today – Titanic had received a message from the steamer Amerika warning of icebergs directly in the path of the ship. Later, another message of iceberg danger was received too. Both went unheeded as radio operators worked to send and receive more important passenger messages.

Today’s cruise ship Captains regularly alter courses too, commonly in response to changing weather conditions. When a crime occurs involving passengers or the crew, the captain, as master of the vessel, is responsible for those people as well and works closely with the US Coast Guard, US Customs and Border Patrol and other agencies to insure a swift and just resolution.

Not long ago, evidence indicated that Captain Francisco Schettino altered the course of Costa Concordia, coming too close to shore and causing the tragedy that followed. The event caused cruise industry leaders to reaffirm their commitment to safety.

Officers and crew members from Royal Caribbean, along with sister-brands Celebrity and Azamara Cruises, now have the advantage of being a part of new simulator training center at Resolve Maritime Academy in Fort Lauderdale. Signaling a renewed focus on safety, staff of the $6.5 million facility cut the grand opening ribbon recently as part of an ongoing safety program but timing surely looked to address current concerns of the cruising public.

“This was not a knee-jerk reaction to recent events,” Captain William Wright, senior vice president of marine operations for Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises said of the two year process to get the facility to opening day.

Still, while simulations can take into account a variety of factors that can go wrong, staff members at the Resolve training facility quickly note that it is the human element that can often make the difference in avoiding disaster at sea.



Fiction: The Titanic being raised out of the Atlantic.

[Flickr photo by mecookie]