Co-founder defends Titanic expeditions company after deadly vessel implosion

Debris from the submersible vessel named Titan was found near the wreckage of the Titanic (OceanGate Expeditions/PA)
Debris from the submersible vessel named Titan was found near the wreckage of the Titanic (OceanGate Expeditions/PA)

The co-founder of a Titanic expeditions company has defended the firm after the “catastrophic implosion” of the Titan submersible led to the deaths of five people.

Guillermo Sohnlein, the co-founder of OceanGate Expeditions, described regulations surrounding visits to the Titanic wreckage as “tricky to navigate” after it was confirmed on Thursday that debris from the Titan deep-sea vessel had been found.

Tributes have since been paid to the Titan submersible passengers and pilot, with the families of Shahzada Dawood, his son Suleman, and Hamish Harding describing them as “beloved” and “dedicated” fathers and sons.

OceanGate Expeditions’ chief executive Stockton Rush and French national Paul-Henri Nargeolet were also confirmed to have died in the incident.

Following the confirmation of debris being found, Mr Sohnlein said there are regulations in place surrounding submersibles but they are “sparse” and “antiquated”.

The submersible lost contact with the tour operator an hour and 45 minutes into the two-hour descent to the wreckage, with the vessel reported missing eight hours after communication was lost.

Mr Sohnlein told Times Radio he and his co-founder Mr Rush were committed to safety during expeditions.

He said: “He was extremely committed to safety. He was also extremely diligent about managing risks, and was very keenly aware of the dangers of operating in a deep ocean environment.

“So that’s one of the main reasons I agreed to go into business with him in 2009.”

Mr Sohnlein, who no longer works for the company, continued: “I know from first-hand experience that we were extremely committed to safety and safety and risk mitigation was a key part of the company culture.”

Engro Corporation, the Pakistani conglomerate that Shahzada Dawood was vice chairman of, said it was “difficult to articulate the grief” of the Dawood family.

Their statement described the relationship between Shahzada and Suleman Dawood as a “joy to behold”, adding: “They were each other’s greatest supporters and cherished a shared passion for adventure and exploration of all the world had to offer them.”

Titanic film director James Cameron, who is also a submersibles expert, criticised OceanGate Expeditions for “not heeding warnings” following the vessel’s implosion.

He told the BBC: “We now have another wreck that is based on, unfortunately, the same principles of not heeding warnings.”

Giving his views on the regulations surrounding visits to the Titanic wreckage, Mr Sohnlein said: “The regulations are pretty sparse. And many of them are antiquated, or they’re designed for specific instances.

“So it’s kind of tricky to navigate those regulatory schemes.”

He also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that anyone operating deep-sea vessels “knows the risks of operating under such pressure and that at any given moment, on any mission, with any vessel, you run the risk of this kind of implosion”.

In the days that followed the report that Titan had gone missing, the US coastguard said the vessel had a depleting oxygen supply that was expected to run out on Thursday.

A report from The Wall Street Journal said the US navy had detected a sound in the search area for the submersible on Sunday that was consistent with an implosion.

The Associated Press, citing a senior military official, reported that the navy passed on the information to the coastguard, which continued its search because the data was not considered by the navy to be definitive.