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RCMP, Transportation Safety Board Launch Investigations Into Titan Sub Tragedy

The RCMP will be doing a preliminary investigation into the deaths of five passengers aboard the Titan, an underwater Titanic tour submersible, while the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) is also investigating the events leading to what officials believe was the sub imploding on June 18.

“There’s no suspicion of criminal activity per se, but the RCMP is taking initial steps to assess whether or not we will go down that road,” Newfoundland and Labrador RCMP Superintendent Kent Osmond said at a news conference on June 24.

Officials believe the Titan imploded after it lost contact one hour and approximately 45 minutes into its descent towards the Titanic shipwreck. The sub was believed to be almost four kilometres under the surface of the North Atlantic Ocean at the time it stopped communicating with its launch ship.

port bow railing of the Titanic
The port bow railing of the Titanic lies in 12,600 feet of water about 400 miles east of Nova Scotia, in a file photo. (Reuters)

After search and rescue crews found five large pieces of debris and wreckage from the submersible on June 22, the passengers on board were presumed dead. The company’s chief executive officer, Stockton Rush, was the Titan’s pilot, with passengers including British billionaire Hamish Harding, French explorer and Titanic expert Paul-Henry Nargeolet, and Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his 19-year-old son, Suleman Dawood.

Officials now suggest an instant implosion caused the sub to burst apart under the sea.

The U.S. Navy said on June 22 that it had detected “an anomaly consistent with an implosion” with acoustic sensors on the day the submersible went missing. The U.S. Navy has listening devices deep in the ocean to detect hostile foreign submarines.

Multiple Countries

The U.S. Coast Guard and American officials are also undertaking their own investigation with robotic vehicles mapping the debris field, and plans for debris recovery are underway.

Osmond said the RCMP has no involvement with regulations, vessel certification, transportation, or safety. “Our mandate is to look at the deaths and determine if anything contributed to their deaths that may lead us down a criminal path,” he said.

The RCMP has established a team of investigators “with the sole purpose of answering the question of whether or not a full investigation by the RCMP is warranted,” he said. There was no timeline provided for the initial review.

Titanic Tourist Sub
The submersible Titan is prepared for a dive into a remote area of the Atlantic Ocean on an expedition to the Titanic on June 18, 2023. (Action Aviation via AP)

He said an investigation would proceed if examination of the circumstances indicated criminal, federal, or provincial laws had been broken, and it would have been “inappropriate” to initiate an investigation while search and recovery efforts were active. Civil negligence would not fall under the RCMP’s jurisdiction.

“Following the U.S. Coast Guard’s announcement earlier this week that debris from the submersible was located and all five on board were presumed dead, we will now look at the circumstances that led to those deaths,” Osmond said.

The Titan’s mother ship, the Polar Prince, which launched the submersible, returned to shore on June 25, an estimated 700 kilometres from where searchers found wreckage. A former Canadian Coast Guard vessel, the Polar Prince is owned by the Miawpukek First Nation and launches from St. John’s, Newfoundland.

“Our hearts go out to the individuals who are on the vessel, particularly any family members who’ve lost loved ones, ” TSB head Kathy Fox said at a news conference.

There were 17 crew members and 24 people on board the Polar Prince when the Titan was submerged with its five passengers headed towards the Titanic shipwreck, and TSB officials will be speaking with all of them.

The wreck is roughly 700 kilometres southeast of Newfoundland in international waters, and it takes approximately two hours for the submersible to reach it.

“We are conducting a safety investigation in Canada given that this was a Canadian flag vessel that departed a Canadian port and was involved in this occurrence, albeit in international waters,” Fox said. The main purpose of a TSB investigation is to examine safety issues and make recommendations to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.

Fox said investigations typically take from 18 months to two years. The submersible has a voyage data recorder with audio, which will also be reviewed by officials.

The owner of the Titan, OceanGate Expeditions, is a U.S. company. The submersible itself was registered in the Bahamas. The passengers who died on board came from England, France, Pakistan, and the United States. There could be involvement from other countries, with Fox noting the international maritime code has provisions allowing collaboration with other investigative bodies.

The Canadian Press contributed to this report.

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