“SOS Titanic calling. We have struck ice and require immediate assistance.”- Telegram of the RMS Titanic
On the freezing night of 14 April 1912, one of the worst disasters in human history unfolded when the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic sank causing the deaths of over 1400 people. Over the years many investigations have pointed out the exact reason for the disaster and along with that one of the most successful Hollywood films, the Titanic was made on it which also showed why the ship sank.
We already know how this story ends; however, this blog is not going to be about the iceberg story but more about how regulatory lapses and human errors contributed to this disaster.
How a better understanding of risk scenarios and efficient management of risks could have saved many more lives. This unfortunate incident serves as a timely reminder that without a proper understanding of risks, how vulnerable are both lives and business operations and it is also critically important for the law to evolve with time and there is no place for obsolete laws.
"Obsolete laws are the legal equivalent of ancient artifacts in a museum – interesting from a historical perspective, but no longer relevant or functional in today's world."
Compliance is very important for any business but are you compliant with an obsolete law?
Let’s go over 100 years back to understand the situation; in the UK, the Merchant Shipping Act, of 1894 mandated that at least 16 lifeboats are required on a ship weighing over 10,000 tons.
However, over the years the sizes of the ships kept on increasing and when the Titanic launched in 1911, the law was not updated.
So as per the requirement, the Titanic, despite weighing over 45,000 tons, needed only 16 lifeboats as per the law. The Titanic carried 4 extra and had 20 lifeboats with it, however considering the size of the ship, those lifeboats were nowhere close to carrying all the passengers on board.
Had the law been changed to accommodate the increasing size of ships just maybe we could have saved everyone.
There's no harm in hoping for the best as long as you're prepared for the worst.” ― Stephen King, Author
Titanic was designed with the idea that in case of any accident on the high seas, the ship would still float, a kind of advanced disaster preparedness.
The bottom of the Titanic was divided into 16 partitions called Bulkheads, so even in case of a collision with a ship or an iceberg even if the first partition is flooded with water, the ship will still float as each partition was separated by a watertight door. The Titanic was engineered in a manner that even if 4 bulkheads are flooded the ship will still float. As per the regulations then, passenger ships needed to stay afloat if two adjacent bulkheads were flooded, the Titanic was ready with 4.
However, the problem for the Titanic was that it did not collide with the iceberg, it got scratched by the iceberg on the side of the ship, extending to 5 bulkheads not 4, resulting in the ship eventually sinking as 5 bulkheads being flooded with water was way beyond the Titanic’s capacity to manage.
MARCONI’S WIRELESS TRANSMISSION
"Come at once, we have struck a berg, it's a CQD old man." -Jack Phillips, Wireless Operator
So even though the Titanic was due to sink, a distress signal could have been sent to nearby ships and they could come with additional rescue boats? Could this have been done?
Marconi’s wireless transmission was a revolutionary technology that changed the face of ship communications.
Earlier RMS Republic 1909, which was a passenger liner was accidentally rammed by another ship on the side and though the Republic’s base was opened, the crew did not panic as they knew they had Marconi’s technology.
They immediately sent a wireless telegraph signal to all nearby ships, which eventually came to the rescue of the RMS Republic. As the rescue ships arrived, the crew transferred them, though the RMS Republic sank, and only 6 people lost their lives.
However, in the case of the Titanic, distress signals were sent to all nearby ships in the vicinity, however, the nearest ship to the Titanic did not receive the signal.
The reason was that the ship's radio operator had turned off the radio and gone to sleep for the night. The other ships were too far away to respond in time.
Just imagine had the radio operator been awake?
LESSONS LEARNT AND THE IMPORTANCE OF RISK SCENARIOS
“The ability to make risk scenario simulations is a profoundly helpful way for company leadership to engage in risk management.” ― Hendrith Vanlon Smith Jr, CEO of Mayflower-Plymouth
The International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) was established after the sinking of the Titanic in 1914 which mandated continuous monitoring of wireless telegraph on board and that lifeboats should account for all passengers onboard. This was a key improvement in regulations to ensure no such tragedies occur again.
Now coming to the importance of risk scenarios, for any business securing lives is the topmost priority. To secure lives, it is important to be cognizant of the worst-case scenarios which may develop during any situation.
The designers of the Titanic may not have envisaged a scenario where the iceberg may scratch the bottom of the Titanic impacting more than 4 bulkheads. Had this scenario been analyzed maybe we would have seen the ship reach New York City Safely.
Secondly, leaving aside the lapses in Compliance, even a basic understanding that lifeboats should account for all people on board was not taken care of.
Approximately more than 1400 people lost their lives in this tragedy.
Finally, it is a lesson for organizations that it is incumbent on them as well to push the government who is a stakeholder in the business, to change the laws, if they are obsolete. There could be no bigger risk than operating a business with obsolete laws. As an organization, it is just not fair to say we are compliant when the law is obsolete.
The tragedy of the Titanic was a lesson that everyone learned the hard way. Had adequate basic precautions been taken and a thorough analysis of various risk scenarios done, maybe the designers of the Titanic may have changed the design to accommodate more risk scenarios.
The establishment of SOLAS was a positive step after the tragedy, however at the cost of 1400+ lives.
Finally, our laws cannot be obsolete, our requirements cannot be obsolete, and you cannot run a business relying on obsolete laws.
It’s a story about a lesson well learnt but at the cost of thousands of lives.
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