UK documentary claims fire weakened RMS Titanic

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A documentary broadcast on Sunday on the UK's Channel 4 claims the RMS Titanic was weakened by a three-week fire before its infamous 1912 sinking.

The wrecked bow of RMS Titanic
Image: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Institute for Exploration/University of Rhode Island.

More than 1,500 people died when the vessel sank partway between Southampton, England and New York, United States. The disaster has long been thought down to a collision with an iceberg.

Titanic: The New Evidence focuses upon research by Irish journalist Senan Molony, who spent 30 years investigating the accident. Based on photographs of RMS Titanic at the shipyard that built it in Belfast, Ireland, he suggested fire by spotting large black streaks in the region struck by the iceberg.

The documentary claims expert analysis confirmed these streaks likely signify a large fire in a fuel store. Alleging temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius, Molony said metallurgists had opined "when you get that level of temperature against steel it makes it brittle, and reduces its strength by up to 75 per cent."

Molony claims "This isn't a simple story of colliding with an iceberg and sinking. It's a perfect storm of extraordinary factors coming together: fire, ice and criminal negligence[....] The fire was known about, but it was played down. She should never have been put to sea." He said J Bruce Ismay, President of the firm behind construction of RMS Titanic, ordered the twelve men tasked to attempting to control the fire to avoid informing passengers. Molony also claims the ship backed into its Southampton berth in a bid to hide fire damage.

A 1912 report to the UK Parliament mentioned, but dismissed as a cause, the on-board fire. Ray Boston suggested in 2008 fire may have broken out ten days prior to departure. Boston investigated the disaster for twenty years. Richard De Kerbrech, who wrote several books documenting the accident, said Molony's proposal the fire severely weakened the ship's structure is believable.

Molony said "Nobody has investigated these marks before or dwelled upon them." The photographs, taken by engineers on the ship, only recently came to light when they were sold at auction.