Can you believe it has been 100 years since the R.M.S. Titanic set sail on its maiden voyage, and met its doomsday? Even after all these years, the Titanic still fascinates people. There can be many reasons why it still does: its first-class settings, its huge shape, its cloud as being ‘unsinkable’ or even how it fascinates shipwreck aficionados. Nevertheless the Titanic taught people a lot of lessons. Here are the top lessons it taught me:
The First Is Sometimes The Last
From what I heard recently, the Titanic was never called ‘unsinkable’ and that title was only given after its sinking. Actually it was listed as ‘designed to be unsinkable’. If it really was unsinkable, it wouldn’t need any lifeboats, right? Nevertheless even without the title, it’s still hard to believe that such a colossal and legendary ship could sink on its maiden voyage. There have been other ships that have sunk on their maiden voyage but none as legendary as the Titanic.
Disaster Risks Don’t Fade Overnight
It was in the dead of night–exactly 11:40pm the evening of April 14, 1912–when the Titanic hit the iceberg and was doomed. There was nothing for night vision at the time. There’s also some stories that many rescue operations didn’t pick up mayday signals because service was not functioning at the time. They couldn’t have been wronger on that day.
It Wasn’t Just Women And Children First
Interesting how a ship’s survivor/fatality statistics can tell a lot. Yes, the term “women and children first” did happen on the Titanic but there was more to tell. Class also told a lot. There was only one fatality amongst the thirty children in both first and second-class. Third-class children were not so lucky as 52 of the 79 children in third-class–roughly two out of three–perished. Third-class was also unlucky for the women as 89 of the 165 women in third-class died while only 17 of the 237 women in both first and second-class and only three of the 23 women amongst the ship’s crew died. Men were the least lucky as only 318 of the ship’s 1670 men–not even 20%–survived. Class once again played a part in this as 1/3 of the men in first-class were saved while only 91 of the 630 men in second and third-class survived. Even crewmen were unlucky as 693 of the ship’s 865 crewmen died. If you want the flat class statistics of the passengers: 202 of the 325 in first-class survived, 167 of the 285 in second-class died, as did 528 of the 706 in third-class. Remember that line in Titanic uttered by Rose’s fiancé when Rose says half the people are going to die and he responds: “Not the better half.” It is true that the ‘better half’ were luckier.
Even The Rich Weren’t Immortal
I may have mentioned that those in first and second-class were the luckiest of the lucky on board but it didn’t mean they were completely lucky. Shortly after the movie was released I heard a sermon at a church where the pastor made mention to three of the fatalities who possessed hundreds of millions of dollars in wealth. I’m sure if you read books on the Titanic, you’d be surprised how many wealthy privileged people were lost that night. John Jacob Astor, the richest person on the Ship, didn’t make it that night. It’s a good reminder since our present society values wealth and celebrity more than anything else. Surprising how some of the wealthiest of ‘the better half’ were amongst the unlucky.
Corporate Ambition Played A Role Too
Corporation hating may be quite a phenomenon in the 21st Century but we shouldn’t forget that even a century ago, big businesses also competed and had their own casualties. As for the Titanic, it was the cream of the crop of the White Star Line’s ship line and they were hoping this ship would crush its main rival in the shipping business, the Cunard Line. Cunard’s competitive edge was speed while Withe Star’s edge was luxury. It purchased three luxury liners–the Titanic, the Brittanic and the Olympic–to beat out Cunard. By 1917, the Olympic was the only one that was still sailing and still profitable. Starting in 1927, White Star itself was purchased from shipping company to shipping company and would eventually merge with Cunard which was going through its own depression-era financial difficulties. White Star still exists as part of Carnival Corporation & PLC and have their corporate office in Liverpool. Modern Cunard ships use the term ‘White Star Service’ to describe their top-notch customer care.
Today passenger airlines have almost completely replaced Transatlantic travel but there is still one Transatlantic ocean liner left. The Queen Mary 2 is the one remaining ocean liner that offers boat trips from Southampton to New York and it owned by the Cunard Line. And yes, you get the luxurious White Star Service there.
It Takes A Major Disaster For Changes To Happen
It was only after the Titanic that better safety measures came into place. Because of the Titanic’s sinking, it was implemented that more lifeboats be on ships and that more lifeboat drills be properly carried out. Also implemented was that wireless equipment on board be manned around the clock. Started up after the Titanic was an International Ice Patrol to monitor the presence of icebergs in the North Atlantic. International harmonizing of maritime safety regulations as well as a treaty for maritime safety also started up after the Titanic’s demise. Other shipwrecks in later years would also provide changes to maritime safety. Sad how it takes a tragedy of such magnitude to make changes for the better.
There Have Been Shipwrecks With Bigger Fatality Numbers
Over 1500 fatailities definitely sounds like a huge number but it’s actually listed in Wikipedia as the fifth-worst peacetime maritime disaster ever. There have been four–one before the Titanic and three since–that have had bigger fatality numbers:
- In 1865, the SS Sultana carrying almost 2400 along the Mississippi River exploded and caught fire just outside of Memphis. An official death toll counts 1547 fatalities.
- In 1948, the SS Kiangya was sailing the Huangpu River just outside of Shanghai when it hit a mine and exploded. The death toll varies from 2750 to 3920.
- In 1987, the Filipino ferry MV Dona Paz was crossing the Tablas Strait when it collided with a freight ship carrying thousands of barrels of petroleum products, igniting an explosion that sank both ships. Fatality estimates range from 1565 to 4400.
- In 2002, the Senegalese ferry MV Le Joola was overfilled to double-capacity causing it to capsize in a rough Atlantic Ocean outside of Gambia. An estimated 1800 people lost their lives.
So that’s what I’ve learned from the Titanic over the years. It is surprising how a big ship that sinks on its maiden voyage can fascinate so many people even today. It’s also surprising how its tragic fate can also tell so much and create a lot of changes. It also reminds you that a disaster of such magnitude can even happen while you’re on vacation. We even saw this year when the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia ran agound, capsized and sunk halfway. The Titanic’s sinking is definitely something to think about all these hundred years later. I know it has me thinking every time I’ve viewed film footage on Youtube of the Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912 and the passengers waving. Did they know?
WIKIPEDIA: RMS Titanic. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Titanic
WIKIPEDIA: White Star Line. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Star_Line>
WIKIPEDIA: List Of Maritime Disasters By Death Toll. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_accidents_and_disasters_by_death_toll#Maritime>