Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters, The



IT is a long time since any modern vessel of importance has gone down under Nature's attack, and in general the floating city of steel laughs at the wind and waves. She is not, however, proof against disaster. The danger lies in her own power—in the tens of thousands of horse power with which she may be driven into another ship or into an iceberg standing cold and unyielding as a wall of granite. In view of this fact it is of the utmost importance that present-day vessels should be thoroughly provided with the most efficient life-saving devices. These would seem more important than fireplaces, squash-courts and many other luxuries with which the Titanic was provided. The comparatively few survivors of the ill-fated Titanic were saved by the life-boats. The hundreds of others who went down with the vessel perished because there were no life-boats to carry them until rescue came.


The survivors urge the need of reform. In a resolution drawn up after the disaster they said:

"We feel it our duty to call the attention of the public to what we consider the inadequate supply of life-saving appliances provided for the modern passenger steamships and recommend that immediate steps be taken to compel passenger steamers to carry sufficient boats to accommodate the maximum number of people carried on board. The following facts were observed and should be considered in this connection: The insufficiency of life-boats, rafts, etc.; lack of trained seamen to man same (stokers, stewards, etc., are not efficient boat handlers); not enough officers to carry out emergency orders on the bridge and superintend the launching and control of life-boats; the absence of search lights.

"The Board of Trade allows for entirely too many people in each boat to permit the same to be properly handled. On the Titanic the boat deck was about seventy-five feet from the water and consequently the passengers were required to embark before lowering the boats, thus endangering the operation and preventing the taking on of the maximum number the boats would hold. Boats at all times should be properly equipped with provisions, water, lamps, compasses, lights, etc. Life-saving boat drills should be more frequent and thoroughly carried out and officers should be armed at both drills. There should be greater reduction of speed in fog and ice, as damage if collision actually occurs is liable to be less.


"In conclusion we suggest that an international conference be called to recommend the passage of identical laws providing for the safety of all at sea, and we urge the United States Government to take the initiative as soon as possible."

That ocean liners take chances with their passengers, though known to the well informed, is newly revealed and comes with a shock of surprise and dismay to most people. If boats are unsinkable as well as fireproof there is no need of any life-boats at all. But no such steamship has ever been constructed.

That it is realized that life-boats may be necessary on the best and newest steamships is proved by the fact that they carry them even beyond the law's requirements. But if life-boats for one-third of those on the ship are necessary, life-boats for all on board are equally necessary. The law of the United States requires this, but the law and trade regulations of England do not, and these controlled the Titanic and caused the death of over sixteen hundred people.

True, a steamship is rarely crowded to her capacity, and ordinarily accommodations in life-boats for a full list would not be needed. But that is no argument against maximum safety facilities, for when disaster comes it comes unexpectedly, and it might come when every berth was occupied. So there must be life-boats for use in every possible emergency. Places must be found for them and methods for handling them promptly.

Suppose a vessel to be thus equipped, would safety be insured? In calm weather such as the Titanic had, yes, for all that would be needed would be to keep the small boats afloat until help came. The Titanic could have saved everyone aboard. In heavy weather, no. As at present arranged, if a vessel has a list, or, in non-nautical language, has tipped over on one side, only the boats upon the lower side can be dropped, for they must be swung clear of the vessel to be lowered from the davits.

So there is a problem which it is the duty of marine designers to solve. They have heretofore turned their attention to the invention of some new contrivance for comfort and luxury. Now let them grasp the far more important question of taking every soul from a sinking ship. They can do it, and while they are about it, it would be well to supplement life-boats with other methods.

We like to think and to say that nothing is impossible in these days of ceaseless and energetic progress. Certainly it is possible for the brains of marine designers to find a better way for rescue work. Lewis Nixon, ship-builder and designer for years, is sure that we can revolutionize safety appliances. He has had a plan for a long time for the construction of a considerable section of deck that could be detached and floated off like an immense raft. He figures that such a deck-raft could be made to carry the bulk of the passengers.

That may seem a bit chimerical to laymen, but Nixon is no layman. His ideas are worthy of every consideration. Certain it is that something radical must be done, and that the maritime nations must get together, not only in the way of providing more life-saving facilities, but in agreeing upon navigation routes and methods.

Captain William S. Sims, of the United States Navy, who is in a position to know what he is talking about, has made some very pointed comments on the subject. He says:

"The truth of the matter is that in case any large passenger steamship sinks, by reason of collision or other fatal damage to her flotability, more than half of her passengers are doomed to death, even in fair weather, and in case there is a bit of a sea running none of the loaded boats can long remain afloat, even if they succeed in getting safely away from the side, and one more will be added to the long list of 'the ships that never return.'

"Most people accept this condition as one of the inevitable perils of the sea, but I believe it can be shown that the terrible loss of life occasioned by such disasters as overtook the Bourgogne and the Titanic and many other ships can be avoided or at least greatly minimized. Moreover, it can be shown that the steamship owners are fully aware of the danger to their passengers; that the laws on the subject of life-saving appliances are wholly inadequate; that the steamship companies comply with the law, though they oppose any changes therein, and that they decline to adopt improved appliances; because there is no public demand for them, the demand being for high schedule speed and luxurious conditions of travel.

"In addition to installing efficient life-saving appliances, if the great steamship lines should come to an agreement to fix a maximum speed for their vessels of various classes and fix their dates and hours of steaming so that they would cross the ocean in pairs within supporting distances of each other, on routes clear of ice, all danger of ocean travel would practically be eliminated.

"The shortest course between New York and the English Channel lies across Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Consequently the shortest water route is over seas where navigation is dangerous by reason of fog and ice. It is a notorious fact that the transatlantic steamships are not navigated with due regard to safety; that they steam at practically full speed in the densest fogs. But the companies cannot properly be blamed for this practice, because if the 'blue liners' slow down in a fog or take a safe route, clear of ice, the public will take passage on the 'green liners,' which take the shortest route, and keep up their schedule time; regardless of the risks indicated."


The terrible sacrifice of the Titanic, however, is to have its fruit in safety for the future. The official announcement is

{illust. caption = A diagrammatic map showing how...}

made by the International Mercantile Marine that all its ships will be equipped with sufficient life-boats and rafts for every passenger and every member of the crew, without regard to the regulations in this country and England or Belgium. One of the German liners already had this complement of life-boats, though the German marine as a whole is sufficiently deficient at this point to induce the Reichstag to order an investigation.

Prompt, immediate and gratifying reform marks this action of the International Mercantile Marine. It is doubtless true that this precaution ought to have been taken without waiting for a loss of life such as makes all previous marine disasters seem trivial. But the public itself has been inert. For thirty years, since Plimsoll's day, every intelligent passenger knew that every British vessel was deficient in life-boats, but neither public opinion nor the public press took this matter up. There were no questions in Parliament and no measures introduced in Congress. Even the legislation by which the United States permitted English vessels reaching American ports to avoid the legal requirements of American statute law (which requires a seat in the life-boats for every passenger and every member of the crew) attracted no public attention, and occasional references to the subject by those better informed did nothing to awake action.

But this is past. Those who died bravely without complaint and with sacrificing regard for others did not lose their lives in vain. The safety of all travelers for all times to come under every civilized flag is to be greater through their sac-rifice. Under modern conditions life can be made as safe at sea as on the land. It is heartrending to stop and think that thirty-two more life-boats, costing only about $16,000, which could have been stowed away without being noticed on the broad decks of the Titanic, would have saved every man, woman and child on the steamer. There has never been so great a disaster in the history of civilization due to the neglect of so small an expenditure.

It would be idle to think that this was due simply to parsimony. It was really due to the false and vicious notion that life at sea must be made showy, sumptuous and magnificent. The absence of life-boats was not due to their cost, but to the demand for a great promenade deck, with ample space to look out on the sea with which a continuous row of life-boats would have interfered, and to the general tendency to lavish money on the luxuries of a voyage instead of first insuring its safety.

1 of 2
2 of 2