OceanGate is putting its underwater trips to the Titanic shipwreck on hold for a year, due to difficulties encountered during deep-water testing of its submersible in the Bahamas.
The Titan sub’s first trips to the world’s most famous shipwreck had been set to start next month in the North Atlantic. This week, team leaders at the Everett, Wash.-based venture decided they couldn’t make the schedule.
“While we are disappointed by the need to reschedule the expedition, we are not willing to shortcut the testing process due to a condensed timeline,” OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush said today in a news release. “We are 100 percent committed to safety, and want to fully test the sub and validate all operational and emergency procedures before launching any expedition.”
Making the decision now gives advance notice for OceanGate’s clients, crew members, partners and affiliates to make other plans for the summer, Rush said.
OceanGate is aiming to conduct the first crewed expeditions to the Titanic since the 2012 centennial of its sinking. The famed ocean liner sank after hitting an iceberg during its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in 1912, resulting in the loss of more than 1,500 lives. The wreck was rediscovered in 1985 at a depth of nearly 13,000 feet (4,000 meters).
The five-person Titan submersible incorporates a range of innovations, including a carbon fiber and titanium hull and a sophisticated electronic control system. The first shallow-water tests were conducted earlier this year in Puget Sound. Last month, the Titan was shipped to the Bahamas for deep-water tests.
Challenges cropped up as soon as the Titan arrived at the Bahamas’ Marsh Harbor. The sub’s electronics sustained lightning damage that affected more than 70 percent of its internal systems. And unusually stormy, windy weather led to further delays in the step-by-step underwater tests.
The OceanGate team wasn’t able to complete the first scheduled 4,000-meter dive in time to meet a 45-day deadline for the Titanic preparations. That triggered a no-go decision for the 2018 expedition season.
OceanGate said it would continue deep-sea testing in the Bahamas to reach the 4,000-meter mark, and conduct additional dives in the surrounding waters as it prepares for the Titanic Survey Expedition in 2019.
Expedition crews will include professional scientists as well as mission specialists who are paying to take part in the voyage. (OceanGate refrains from using the term “tourist.”)
The fare for 2019 is $105,129 per person, which is equivalent to the inflation-adjusted price that the Titanic’s first-class passengers paid in 1912.
“All of the 2018 mission specialists have the opportunity to join the 2019 expedition,” OceanGate marketing manager Dana Hall told GeekWire in an email. “The plan is to go back again in 2020 and year over year as needed, or as long as there is interest.”