Cruise lines insist their submersibles are safe following Titan tragedy

Scenic Neptune
By Neal Baldwin
23/06/2023
Home » Cruise lines insist their submersibles are safe following Titan tragedy

Viking Cruises and Scenic have moved swiftly to reassure passengers of the safety of the submersibles used during expedition sailings following this week’s OceanGate Titan tragedy.

All five passengers on the Titan submersible, three of whom were British, have been confirmed dead after it likely imploded during an underwater expedition to the wreck of the Titanic, which lies at a depth of about 3,000 metres on the bed of Atlantic.

Contact was lost with the crew of the tourist sub (pictured below being towed on a barge to the dive site) less than two hours into the dive, which took place south of Newfoundland, and the wreckage of the submersible was spotted on the sea bed, close to the Titanic, four days later.

 

Several expedition cruise lines, including Viking, Scenic and Seabourn also operate underwater expeditions on similar submersibles, although they sink to no more than 300 metres under water, significantly less than the Titan.

Industry experts have previously criticised OceanGate for choosing not to seek certification for its submersible and operating it as an experimental vessel, meaning it was not required to undergo the same safety checks as merchant vessels.

In 2019, OceanGate said it was concerned that certification could slow down development of Titan.

Another key difference between Titan and the submarines operated by expedition cruise lines is the number of windows they have. Titan just had a porthole window while cruise lines’ submarines are essentially acrylic spheres.

Cruise lines say their submersibles are safer than Titan

Viking has two submersibles on Viking Octantis and another pair on Viking Polaris, named after the four members of the Beatles band – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

In a statement on Viking’s website, the line said: “Viking’s piloted submarines feature a multitude of safety systems and built-in redundancies in case of failures.

“They take guests on dives of less than one hour, and never deeper than 300 metres.

“The training our Submersible Pilots and Surface Officers receive exceeds all recommended industry standards, and regular safety drills anticipating every possible emergency situation ensure that each dive is conducted under the most stringent of safety conditions.”

The line added that each one of the four submarines had been certified by maritime classification body DNV.

Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris carry equipment on board for the ‘very unlikely event that recovery of a submersible from under water should be necessary’, Viking said.

Scenic has custom-designed submersibles on both Scenic Eclipse and Scenic Eclipse II, with space for up to eight guests each. The underwater vessels are crewed by a specialist pilot and operate, weather permitting, in the majority of destinations around the world.

Trips in the submersibles, both named Scenic Neptune, are bookable onboard at a cost of $950 per person. Guests must pre-arrange consent from their doctor that they are fit to undertake the 40-minute voyage up to 300 metres beneath the waves.

On its website, Scenic says the subs, which have a clear acrylic dome, ‘have been designed for optimum underwater viewing’ and that guests will be able to ‘see parts of the ocean never before seen by humans’.

It goes on: “Redefining underwater exploration, Scenic Neptune effortlessly explores the underwater world. Gasp in awe at fascinating marine life, marvel at vibrant coral reefs and view mysterious ruins. Explore the mysteries as you experience the depths of the ocean for an unrivalled discovery.”

Scenic said employees were ‘saddened’ by the outcome of the search and rescue mission to find the Titan submarine.

But the line added: “Our own submersible, Scenic Neptune, offers a completely different experience and is built to dive to depths of 200 to 300m though does not dive beyond 100m which provides the best viewing experiences.”

The line said the experience Scenic Neptune (pictured) offered was ‘a highly regulated and safe experience’.

Scenic submersible aborted dive

Scenic Neptune aborted a dive in Antarctica last year during a katabatic wind event and passengers were delayed leaving the device due to ice floes, which held up the submarine’s return to surface.

At the time, Scenic issued a statement that said: “While on a routine excursion operation in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea and during flat, calm conditions, a katabatic wind event took place.

“At the time, Scenic Eclipse’s submersible, Scenic Neptune, was conducting a dive with guests onboard.

“As per Scenic safety procedures and [International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators] guidelines, the submersible driver and sea-based team aborted the dive.”

Rival cruise line dismisses submersibles as ‘toys’

Seabourn operates four submersibles but declined to comment on their operation when approached by Travel Gossip.

Another cruise line, Silversea, decided to ditch the submersible it inherited when it bought the expedition ship Silver Endeavour from Crystal Cruises last year.

At the time, the line’s then-President Roberto Martinoli said passengers would see very little in the ‘murky’ waters of the polar regions, adding he couldn’t see the appeal of having ‘toys’ which only a portion of guests could use at any one time.

“[Submarines] are actually only useful in a very limited number of places,” he said. “Finally, there’s more than enough to do and see on Silversea’s cruises.”

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