Lessons from the Titanic

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?

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36 Responses to Lessons from the Titanic

  1. Sinclair Davidson

    Mind you, Chris Berg is simply trying to exonerate his distant relative Ice who has had to wear the blame all these years.

  2. JC

    Resorting to making animal noises Jazzabelle. Uni really has ruined you. And stay away from Shiny as you’ll only learn bad habits, especially in regards to honesty, which you always wrestled with anyway.

  3. Sinclair Davidson

    JC – Jarrah didn’t like my joke. No need to launch into him.

  4. Biota

    C’mon JC, Jarrah was groaning at Sinc’s weak joke!

  5. Sinclair Davidson

    Biota – that was a good joke.

  6. Gab

    It wasn’t until Jarrah groaned that I realised Sinclair was attempting a joke.

  7. JC

    Okay. But why animal noises now?

    Anyways I too was joking.

  8. jtfsoon

    that was the worst joke I’ve read in my life

  9. Gab

    It’s up there with:

    Why did the koala fall out of the tree?

    Because it was dead.

  10. Gab

    You’re right. The koala joke was funny 😆


  11. C.L.

    Guilty confession: I liked the movie.


    The story is indeed a cautionary tale of regulatory failure and the arrogance of ‘experts.’

    100 years later, the same sort of people believe ‘climate change’ is unsinkable.

  12. Jarrah

    What is your problem, JC? Maybe you should take some time out. Or just ignore my posts. It will be good for your blood pressure problems.

  13. Gab

    I liked the movie too but literally sobbed for an hour after it finished. Not sure why I was so overcome.

  14. Token

    Guilty confession: I liked the movie

    …as much fun as watching a car crash in slow motion.

  15. Biota

    Confession: haven’t seen it and unlikely too. Just don’t want to end up like Gab 🙂

  16. It’s a very tedious film with a terrible script. But I sort of liked the way what’s his name’s face faded away from the light into the inky blackness as he sunk to his watery grave. Was it worth 3 hours of cheese for such a 3 second shot? No.

    But as for Chris Berg’s column – it’s good to see someone from the IPA endorsing tighter government regulation to keep us all safe and happy.

  17. C.L.

    Well I saw it with a sobbing gal who cuddled up to me.

    So I enjoyed the film.

    [No, it wasn’t Gab]. 🙂

  18. Jarrah

    “it’s good to see someone from the IPA endorsing tighter government regulation to keep us all safe and happy.”

    I’m pretty sure he was pointing out the inherent problems of leaving rule-setting to people without the right incentives to make good rules, and the problems of assuming just because government makes the rules that they are good rules.

  19. Ellen of Tasmania

    I heard that a lot of movie watchers ended up barracking for Chris’s distant relative.

  20. Jarrah: I chose to interpret it in the way that amuses me most.

  21. Viva

    One doco has argued that the philosophy behind ship design at the time was to make the ship itself the lifeboat by making it difficult to sink. If only four instead of six compartments had been breached Titanic would not have sunk. Even if she had ploughed into the iceberg head on she probably would not have sunk.

    Best laid plans etc …..

  22. Sinclair Davidson

    Ellen – yes. I saw it on a plane to Singapore (back in the days when there were movies shown in cabin not on seat backs). I was barracking for the berg.

  23. Infidel Tiger

    Guilty confession: I liked the movie.

    Kate Winslets tits.

  24. IT is putting his hand up for Swedish re-education.

  25. Sinclair Davidson

    Swedish re-education – does that involve spanking?

  26. Jarrah

    “Kate Winslets tits.”

    Not just her tits. She’s the whole package.

  27. Entropy

    Best date of my life

  28. Samson Agonistes

    I can’t believe that Berg even believes what he writes.

  29. Infidel Tiger

    Not just her tits. She’s the whole package

    I haven’t seen it, but apparently she spend 2 hours naked in a bath reading in that movie The Reader. Sounds alright until you find out she’s a Nazi.

  30. Jim Rose

    why is there so much interest in the titanic?

    is there no upper limit to remakes of a very well known story?

  31. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Latest research shows that most sea disasters have a much higher survival rate for men than for women and children. Individual survival instinct kicks in and men live longer anyway in extreme survival situations. The Titanic was the exception – explained by the fact the Captain threatened to shoot men in lifeboats who didn’t cede their seats to women and children.

  32. Eyrie

    “One doco has argued that the philosophy behind ship design at the time was to make the ship itself the lifeboat by making it difficult to sink.”

    That’s the philosophy used in commercial aviation.
    For our personal flying my wife and I wear parachutes.

  33. I find Berg’s piece bizarre. How was this not a market failure? It was the responsbility of the White Star Line to provide lifeboats for the passengers of the Titanic.

  34. Mundi

    There are a few truths about titanic the are not politically correct to say:

    The ship within visual range was an illegal Norwegian whaler. It had fished there for years, but new regulation made its hunting zone illegal, and so when the titanics rockets fire up, they left, as there was a legal requirement to fire them in the presence of pirates etc.

    The titanic had more lifeboats than required by regulation. The regulation seems to be one of those nasty ones where it’s actually made to be pointless but then people take it to be some sort of standard and believe compliance will mean they are safe.

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