RMS Titanic did not sink

This statement would have been true had a thorough risk assessment and risk prevention/reduction treatment been carried out before Titanic’s maiden voyage in 1912.

Prior to 1912, there were 17 recorded ship sinkings (since 1828) caused by iceberg collisions. Other ships that sank, without trace may also have been sunk by icebergs but with no survivor testimony, there is no verification. Risk assessors could also have been aware of a fictional story (written in 1898) about a ship called Futility with similarities to Titanic. For the risk assessors these facts and knowledge would have given an indication of likelihood. The likelihood would almost certainly been given as medium/high. The impact would have been deemed high because of the loss of reputation for White Star Line, significant financial losses and significant loss of life.

For high risks the role of the risk manager is to reduce either the likelihood or the impact by applying prevention or mitigation methods.

With hindsight risk treatment may have produced the following solutions. Some of these procedures became mandatory after the event.

  1. Radio usage protocol to prioritise warning messages from other ships over passenger telegrams. It is a known fact that Titanic received warning messages from another ship that icebergs were in the vicinity. The warning messages were missed because of the high volume of passenger telegrams. Result – No collision with iceberg.
  2. Speed restrictions during hours of darkness. It is a fact that the Titanic was travelling at almost full speed when the iceberg was spotted. A slower speed would have given the captain more time to manoeuvre away from the collision. Result – No collision with iceberg.
  3. Full complement of lifeboats to accommodate all on board. It is alleged the owners insisted the number of lifeboats to be minimised to free up deck space and to give the impression that lifeboats were unimportant because the ship was “unsinkable”. Result – Less lives lost.
  4. Lifeboat protocol should have stated that each lifeboat could only be launched when full. Many of the lifeboats were launched less than half full. Lifeboat safety drills. Result – Less lives lost.
  5. If fire is detected, extinguish and conduct investigation. This may seem obvious but there is evidence that 30-foot scorch marks were found on the hull next to the long hole caused by the iceberg. Some researchers estimate there was a fire in the coal bunker before the ship sailed. It is assumed the engineers used the burning coal to feed the steam engines and it was assumed the fire was not a great threat to the ship. However, they didn’t consider the integrity of the hull steel being compromised; soft on the inside and brittle on the outside in freezing water. Potential Result – smaller hole, slower sinking, more lives saved.
  6. Lookout operatives must use binoculars. Historians have discovered the binoculars were locked away. The keyholder was an officer who was bumped from the voyage. Result – Arguably, earlier sighting of iceberg would have given more time to avoid.

Another contributing factor was the composition of the steel used. In 1912 steel manufacture contained high levels of Sulphur which made the steel brittle in freezing temperatures. Steel manufacture has advanced since then and is much stronger. Stronger rivets did exist at the time but were more expensive.

What if White Star Line had a Business Continuity (BC) Management System in 1912?

Would the Titanic ship itself, have had an operational level BC Plan? Would White Star have a Strategic BC Plan?

Certainly, for the ship, as part of the BC process a risk assessment would have been carried out. The Business Impact Assessment would have addressed the loss of processes in place including Radio Room (new Marconi system in place), Engine Room, Bridge functions, lifeboat functions, crew responsibilities etc.

The Titanic BC Plan wouldn’t prevent an iceberg collision but would deal more with the impact after the collision. The Strategic BC response would today be activated after the event, to continue the business of transatlantic passenger travel. Solutions implemented in resulting BC plans would have included a communication plan to handle reputational matters. There would be provisions in place to help the surviving staff, passenger survivors and bereaved relatives. There would possibly be mutual arrangements with other ship operators to facilitate existing bookings. White Star could have planned to upgrade other ships in their fleet and bring into service as soon as possible. White Star could have a robust legal system in place to deal with the numerous claims against loss of life, property/cargo loss and sustained injuries.

Although the Titanic maiden voyage was a headline before it sank, the Titanic story would not have been famous today had it not sunk. For maritime safety, lessons were learned and the Titanic disaster was a key driver for the formation of International Convention on Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). It can be confidently assumed the SOLAS regulations which came in to force in 1914 have saved more lives than the number lost on the tragic night of April 15, 1912.

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