Update (6/22/23): Coast Guard officials announced the discovery of a debris field located approximately 1,600 feet from the Titanic’s hull that is “consistent with the catastrophic loss of the pressure chamber” onboard the Titan submersible vessel. The grim discovery was made by the Ann Harvey and Motor Vessel Horizon Arctic, a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV). OceanGate Explorations, the operator of the missing submersible, released a statement acknowledging the organization’s belief that the five men onboard have “sadly been lost.”
The disappearance of a manned submersible during its descent to the Titanic shipwreck site over the weekend has made headlines around the world as rescuers race to find the underwater vehicle with five souls on board before the reserve oxygen supply is exhausted.
But the crisis has also reignited the emotions and frustrations of the family members of those who perished when the White Star Line’s Royal Mail Ship hit an iceberg and sank in the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912 during its maiden voyage–strong emotions born from the pain of tragedy and the determination to honor the deceased by respecting the wreck site as hallowed ground. Descendants of those who were onboard when Titanic slipped beneath the frigid waves more than 300 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, and 900 miles east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, say that excursions to the wreck site are disgusting, likening them to visits to Disneyland.
What Happened to the Submersible Vessel?
On Sunday, June 18, a submersible vessel known as the Titan, owned by deep-sea exploration company OceanGate Expeditions, began its descent toward the Titanic wreck site, located 370 nautical miles off the Newfoundland coast at a depth of 12,500 feet under the ocean’s surface. Approximately one hour and 45 minutes into the two-hour descent, the vessel lost contact with its surface ship, the Canadian expedition ship, the M.V. Polar Prince, according to the Canadian Coast Guard. Five people, deemed mission specialists, were on board, including OceanGate’s CEO, Stockton Rush.
The Coast Guard initiated a search and rescue mission after contact was not re-established with the vessel, and as of the time of this publication, the surface search area is more than twice the size of the state of Connecticut and more than two miles down into the depths of the remote North Atlantic. So far, the search has yielded no sign of the Titan submersible.
While OceanGate touts the scientific merit of such excursions, others say that those who book such tours do so merely for the opportunity to see Titanic’s remains with their own eyes–an egregious thing in the opinions of some, including descendants of those who lost their lives when Titanic sank in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, for whom the Titanic wreck site is revered as hallowed ground as it serves as the final resting place for nearly 1,500 souls who were lost when the “unsinkable” ship sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic.
A “Disgusting” Prospect
John Locascio, whose two uncles lost their lives after boarding the Titanic in 1912, says the tours of the Titanic wreck site make no sense because the site is a grave for those who drowned in the sinking.
“I think it’s disgusting, quite honestly,” Locascio said during an interview. “I would want [the tours] to stop, to be perfectly honest. There’s no sense of it. You’re going down to see a grave. Would you want to dig up your uncles or aunts to see the box? That’s basically what I compare it to. There’s no reason for it.”
Locascio went so far as to say that the Titanic might have had something to do with the disappearance of the Titan submersible over the weekend.
“[The Titanic passengers] died a horribly tragic death,” he said. “Just leave the bodies resting. They don’t want people down to see them. Just leave well enough alone. I believe with what happened with the submersible, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Titanic said to herself: ‘I think I’m getting tired of these people coming down to look at me.'”
“The idea is that they are dead, and the Titanic is sacred ground,” explained Locascio’s wife Angelica. “And just like you would go to a cemetery and stand on firm ground to visit a loved one and put flowers on their grave, Titanic is the same thing. It is still a grave.”
Regulatory Measures Are Missing on The Titanic Exploration Tours
Brett Gladstone is the great-great-grandson of Ida and Isidor Straus, both of whom died on Titanic in 1912, and says he doesn’t believe that visitors to the wreck site are struck by “bad karma,” but he does believe in the need for regulations for the explorations.
“The act of going down there should be a regulated procedure,” Gladstone opined. “There should be restrictions, and there should be some degree of honor and respect given to those whose bodies remain there—or whose souls remain there if their bodies no longer exist.” The idea of “tourist packages” to the wreck site that cost explorers $250,000 each doesn’t sit well with Gladstone, who says that trips to the site should be regulated.
“If they’re going to do it, it should be regulated because I think it’s a dangerous experience to go down there, and if too many people go down there, the site can be disturbed, endangering what’s left in terms of keeping it pristine and in its original condition.”
“Plenty of people passed away down there [in 1912], and I don’t think it should be dealt with as a tourist attraction,” said T. Sean Maher, whose great-grandfather James Kelly of County Kildare, Ireland, said. “I think the Robert Ballard [founder of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution] expedition that located it [in 1985] was fine because nothing was tremendously disturbed.”
The body of Maher’s great-grandfather was recovered following the sinking, though his family never saw it. He was then buried at sea.
“I am not comfortable with people going down and viewing [the wreck site] as a tourist attraction,” Maher added. “The Ballard expedition discovered where the Titanic was, and now we know. It is what it is. It’s down there. That’s where all those people lost their lives. That should be it. It should be left just as it is. We should let those people down there lie in peace.”
Titanic’s Wreck Site: “Almost Like Disneyland”
Mark Petteruti’s grandmother was just 24 years old when she boarded Titanic. Though she survived, Petteruti says that she was haunted by the sinking for the rest of her life.
“She never wanted to think about it,” Petteruti explained. “She never wanted to go on a ship again. She got in the last lifeboat, number 15, and it was piled in with people, and she survived. She always had PTSD, and she would wake up in the middle of the night screaming, thinking about all the people who died around her.”
When asked about his feelings toward explorations to the wreck site, which cost $250,000 per person, Petteruti said such an undertaking is tragic.
“I can’t believe people would pay $250,000 to look at [the wreck site],” he said. “It’s a graveyard–all those people who died with all their remains are down there. Now it’s almost like Disneyland with all the people going down there to look.”
Titanic’s Wreck Site: A Place to Be Revered, Respected
Brett Gladstone, whose great-great-grandparents died in the sinking, said his great-great-grandfather’s body was found, but his great-great-grandmother’s body was never recovered.
“The site is a graveyard for my great-great-grandmother and so many others,” he explained. “I’m a little bit uncomfortable with people making money over diving down and spending what I understand to be a quarter of a million dollars to go down in these submersibles—because it is a graveyard, and it should be treated as such.”
While there’s still no sign of the missing sub that disappeared on Sunday morning, Coast Guard officials say underwater noises were heard on Tuesday afternoon in the area where the missing Titanic sub would most likely be located. A Canadian aircraft searching for the sub in the North Atlantic reportedly detected intermittent “banging” noises from the vicinity of the submersible’s last known location. The underwater sounds gave a glimmer of hope to some who are praying for a miracle to bring the Titan and her crew back to the surface safely.