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U.S. Coast Guard Declares Titan Loss a ‘Major Marine Casualty’

Rear Admiral John Mauger, the First Coast Guard District commander, speaks during a press conference updating about the search of the missing OceanGate Expeditions submersible, which is carrying five people to explore the wreck of the sunken Titanic, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 22, 2023. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

U.S. Coast Guard Declares Titan Loss a ‘Major Marine Casualty’

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 8756
June 24, 2023

The U.S. Coast Guard has declared the loss of the Titan submersible a major marine casualty and will lead a formal investigation into the incident, the National Transportation Safety Board said Friday.

The investigation will be joined by the NTSB.

News of the investigation follows an announcement by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) on Friday that it had also launched an investigation, as the investigating authority of the flag state of the expedition support vessel.

The 21-foot Titan submersible, privately operated by U.S.-based OceanGate Expeditions, was launched from the Canadian-flagged Polar Prince on its fatal dive to the wreck of the RMS Titanic last Sunday, June 18. Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes into its dive, the support vessel lost contact with the sub, triggering a multi-national search and rescue operation led by the U.S. Coast Guard.

A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) discovered a debris field Thursday, approximately 1,600 feet off the bow of the Titanic, that was confirmed as the sub. Authorities said the debris was consistent with a catastrophic loss of pressure, killing all five people on board.

The U.S. Coast Guard generally has broad authority to investigate certain marine casualties, but considering the Titan incident involved a non-U.S. flagged vessel and occurred outside of the navigable waters of the U.S., its role in the investigating the incident has been uncertain.

However, as this blog post from law firm Holland & Knight points out, the Coast Guard’s “determines on a case-by-case basis what investigative actions are appropriate for a specific case based on the likely value to marine safety, available resources, and risks in a given port.”

Major Marine Casualties

In the United States, marine casualties are categorized based on their severity, from reportable marine casualties to serious marine incidents and major marine casualties—the highest level. Regulations define a Major Marine Casualty as a marine casualty involving a vessel that involves the loss of six or more lives; the loss of a mechanically propelled vessel of 100 or more gross tons; property damage initially estimated as $500,000 or more; and/or serious threat, as determined by the Coast Guard Commandant and concurred with by the NTSB chairman, to life, property, or the environment by hazardous materials.

In general, the Coast Guard investigations seek to determine the cause of the casualty and whether any misconduct, negligence, or violation of the law occurred. The investigation will also determine if civil or criminal penalties should be imposed and if new laws or regulations are needed to prevent future incidents. The process may involve the convening of a Marine Board of Investigation and could include public hearings. The Board would produce a report with findings of fact, causal analysis, conclusions, and safety recommendations.

The NTSB’s role in marine casualty investigations focusses solely on transportation safety and determining probable cause. The investigative process generally involves on-site fact gathering, analysis of facts, determination of probable cause, acceptance of a final report, and advocating for safety recommendations.

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