Like many people I’m all Titanic’d out. It was a terrible movie and now there is this rumour that it was a true story. Well, no. But a ship called the Titanic did sink 100 years ago with huge loss of life. Writing in the Wall Street Journal Chris Berg identifies regulatory failure as the primary cause of the casualty rate.
The ship had carried 2,224 people on its maiden voyage but could only squeeze 1,178 people into its lifeboats. There were a host of other failures, accidents, and mishaps which led to the enormous loss of life, but this was the most crucial one: From the moment the Titanic scraped the iceberg, the casualties were going to be unprecedented.
Lifeboats were not designed to keep all the ship and crew afloat while the vessel sank. They were simply to ferry them to nearby rescue ships.
Had Titanic sunk more slowly, it would have been surrounded by the Frankfurt, the Mount Temple, the Birma, the Virginian, the Olympic, the Baltic and the first on the scene, the Carpathia. The North Atlantic was a busy stretch of sea. Or, had the Californian (within visual range of the unfolding tragedy) responded to distress calls, the lifeboats would have been adequate for the purpose they were intended—to ferry passengers to safety.
There was, simply, very little reason to question the Board of Trade’s wisdom about lifeboat requirements. Shipbuilders and operators thought the government was on top of it; that experts in the public service had rationally assessed the dangers of sea travel and regulated accordingly. Otherwise why have the regulations at all?