The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is investigating the implosion of the Titan submersible and a Canadian ship’s role in the operation leading to the doomed descent.
Pieces of OceanGate Expedition’s Titan were found near the wreckage of the famed Titanic shipwreck at the bottom of the North Atlantic Thursday. The U.S. Coast Guard, which led an international rescue mission with assistance from Canada, confirmed the findings and quashed all hope for a positive outcome for the five crew members on board.
Titan was on an expedition to explore Titanic, and was brought to sea Sunday by the Canadian vessel Polar Prince. It suddenly lost communication with the ship an hour and 45 minutes into its descent, kicking off what would be a frantic five-day search for the lost vessel.
“In accordance with the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act and international agreements, the TSB, as the investigation authority of the flag state of the support vessel involved in the occurrence, will conduct a safety investigation regarding the circumstances of this operation conducted by the Canadian-flagged vessel Polar Prince,” the agency said in a news release Friday.
“A team of TSB investigators is travelling to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, to gather information, conduct interviews, and assess the occurrence. In the coming days, we will coordinate our activities with other agencies involved.”
The news comes after the U.S. Coast Guard said it will lead an investigation into the catastrophic implosion of the Titan submersible.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board issued a statement Friday saying the U.S. Coast Guard had declared the loss of Titan a “major marine casualty” and, as a result, would lead the investigation.
Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the board, said the NTSB had joined the investigation.
Since the beginning of the search late Sunday, the U.S. Coast Guard has repeatedly referred to Titan as a Canadian vessel, though the company that operated the small craft, OceanGate Expeditions, is based in the United States.
Marc Isaacs, a maritime lawyer in Toronto, said the independent Transportation Safety Board of Canada could also claim jurisdiction over an investigation because the Titan’s mother ship, the Polar Prince, is registered under the Canadian flag.
The ship, a former Canadian Coast Guard vessel, is owned by the Miawpukek First Nation in southern Newfoundland. The chief and company issued a statement on Thursday.
“We want to commend our crews on the Polar Prince and Horizon Arctic who have worked tirelessly over the last number of days on the search and rescue effort. The work the crews and contractors have carried out under these difficult circumstances is a testament to their professionalism and dedication to their work,” the statement said.
“In particular the crew on the Polar Prince for carrying out command responsibilities early in the search and the Horizon Arctic crew for so quickly moving the US ROV to the site.”
Isaacs said the Canadian and American safety board will likely work together and that “I doubt two organizations like that are going to get into a turf war about who leads an investigation.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. navy confirmed Thursday its acoustic sensors detected “an anomaly consistent with an implosion” in the deep area of the ocean where the doomed submersible was operating Sunday, several hours before it was reported missing.
In an email, a senior U.S. navy official said an analysis of the acoustic data was shared with the “unified command” leading the search.
The U.S. navy has long maintained a network of listening devices on the floor of the North Atlantic to detect hostile submarines.
The navy official said the finding was not definitive, adding that the information was considered with acoustic data provided by other partners in the search for the Titan, which was led by the U.S. Coast Guard. The official said the decision was made to continue with the search-and-rescue mission and “make every effort to save the lives on board.”
But information about the anomaly wasn’t shared with the public until after the Titan’s wreckage was found and all five aboard were presumed dead.
The Canadian Armed Forces, which took part in the search, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the U.S. navy’s data.
OceanGate, based in Everett, Wash., continues to face intense scrutiny over its safety practices.
Marine engineers have drawn attention to the fact that Titan, which had a carbon-fibre hull, was never “classed” or certified by an independent third party to ensure it met certain safety standards. In 2018, a group of engineers wrote a letter that warned that the company’s “experimental” approach could have “catastrophic” consequences.
In response, OceanGate explained on its website that Titan was not classed because the process could inhibit innovation.
In Halifax, a Canadian military official confirmed Friday that the Canadian Coast Guard vessel John Cabot would remain in the search area to help with the recovery operation, though no details were released.
The U.S. Coast Guard has yet to say whether any of the fractured pieces of the sunken submersible would be retrieved from the ocean floor.
Some of the other Canadian ships and aircraft used during the search were sent back to their bases Friday, including coastal defence vessel HMCS Glace Bay, based in Halifax, and a CP-140 Aurora long-range patrol aircraft, based at CFB Greenwood in western Nova Scotia.
“The U.S. coast guard no longer requires the rescue assets from our forces,” said Lt.-Cmdr. Len Hickey, spokesman for Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax.
Earlier this week, the crew aboard an Aurora aircraft dropped sonar-equipped buoys into the ocean near the Titanic wreck site and picked up banging sounds, which led to frenzied speculation that those aboard the Titan could have been signalling for help.
On Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard said those noises had no connection to the demise of Titan.
With files from The Canadian Press.