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Shipping/Maritime

Search Underway for Commercial Submarine Missing Near Titanic

Submersible Titan seen on a 2021 trial dive (OceanGate)

The U.S. Coast Guard is confirming that a search and rescue mission has been launched for a private tourist submarine that is missing near the wreck site of the ocean liner Titanic. The USCG announced this afternoon that the  21-foot submersible from the Canadian research vessel Polar Prince lost contact during a dive on Sunday.

The submersible is owned and operated by a U.S.-based company OceanGate which reports it offers crewed submersibles for commercial projects, scientific research, and exploration but is best known for its dives to the wreck of the Titanic. The company previously completed dives in 2021 and 2022 to the Titanic which consists of a combination of scientists and what the company says on its website are “qualified explores.” Reports indicate the company is charging $250,000 for each individual to participate in a 10-day mission that includes eight days at sea.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Jordan Hart confirmed to CBS News that a mission is underway off the coast of Newfoundland. The Canadian Coast Guard reports that the U.S. is managing the mission from the base in Boston. According to the biref update from the Coast Guard, the 5-person crew submerged Sunday morning, and the crew of the Polar Prince lost contact with them approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes into the vessel’s dive. Rear Admiral John Mauger of the U.S. Coast Guard told a briefing that they believe the submarine has a maximum of 96 hours of air.

The company in a statement to CBS News said its focus is on the crewmembers in the submersible. According to its website, the plan was for each dive to the wreck site to take up to eight hours and include a pilot, the “content expert,” and three paying guests. The company online had earlier reported that a mission began on June 12 and was scheduled to conclude on June 20.

The AIS tracking site MarineTraffic reports that three ocean-going tugs appear to have departed from Newfoundland heading to the site. The USCG reports it has both C-130 and P8 Poseidon aircrafts with underwater detection capabilities operating over the location. The Canadian Coast Guard is also involved in the search.

OceanGate on its website lists that it has three submarines but only the Titan, introduced in 2021, is capable of diving the 3,800 meters to the Titanic wreck site. According to the company, it is the world’s only privately owned submersible capable of taking five crewmembers into the deep ocean. They reported its first dive in December 2021 saying it was years in the making and required overcoming tremendous engineering challenges.

Titan was built and designed in consultation with expert engineers and manufacturers and includes multiple, redundant safety systems. Innovations incorporated in the engineering of the Titan submersible the company reported include its Launch and Recovery System (LARS) and real-time acoustic monitoring of the hull. The vessel is built with an aerospace-grade carbon fiber hull mated with titanium endcaps and a dome.

A team of engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center consulted with OceanGate’s engineers during the development of the submersible. Late in April, the company highlighted that it had moved Titan for final preparations for the 2023 Titanic Expedition.
 

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