A research institute at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador opened its “proverbial doors” last year to the company that owned the doomed Titan submersible, less than a year before the ship suffered a catastrophic implosion as he plunged towards the wreck of the Titanic.
Emails obtained by The Canadian Press show that officials at Memorial’s Fisheries and Marine Institute signed an agreement with OceanGate in December allowing the company to store equipment with the university and promising that students and faculty would have the opportunity to ” join OceanGate expeditions to support research efforts.”
The MoU also states that the marine institute would display the OceanGate submersible to visitors with the aim of promoting ocean literacy and the “blue economy”.
The Titan submersible was last heard from on June 18, after it crashed into the North Atlantic while en route to the Titanic wreck site. Officials say its mother ship, the Canadian-flagged Polar Prince, lost contact with the small submarine about an hour and 45 minutes after it began its dive. The descent usually lasts around two hours.
After a frantic international search that lasted several days, a crew operating a remotely operated vehicle spotted the wreckage of the submersible about 500 meters from the bow of the Titanic, almost four kilometers below the ocean surface. OceanGate founder and CEO Stockton Rush died along with all four pa*sengers on board.
Emails obtained through a Freedom of Information request make no mention of concerns that had surfaced in the industry that Titan was unsafe and that OceanGate was putting its pa*sengers, who paid $250, at risk. 000 US$ to dive on the Titanic.
There were also no questions about the company’s public acknowledgment in 2019 that Titan had not been certified, as is standard industry practice. But they reveal officials’ enthusiasm for partnering with OceanGate.
“On behalf of Angie, Joe and myself, thank you very much…and consider that the “proverbial doors” of the Marine Institute at Memorial University are open! Rob Shea, then vice president of the Marine Institute, wrote in a July 9, 2022 email to Rush.
Shea sent the note after visiting the Titan in St. John’s Harbor with Angie Clarke, the institute’s a*sociate vice president of academic and student affairs, and Joe Singleton, interim director of the School of Ocean Technology from the institute, according to emails.
A Memorial University spokesperson said this week that the document was a general, non-binding agreement and that there were no formal plans for students or staff to board the Titan, since the timeline for the OceanGate expedition did not fit into the university calendar.
“As there were no plans for students or staff to be aboard the Titan, there was no reason to monitor OceanGate,” Chad Pelley, the school’s media relations manager, said in a statement. statement sent by email Tuesday.
A Marine Institute student was aboard the Polar Prince when the Titan was lost, but the institute said it was part of a summer job with OceanGate and not a school-related internship.
The emails, which cover four years between January 1, 2019 and January 1, 2023, show that Rush was eager to reach an agreement to store the Titan and accompanying equipment at the Marine Institute. However, there were several apparent issues that school officials had to overcome in order to produce the final memorandum of understanding, dated December 21, 2022.
There are long email chains between finance, contracts and customs officials with the school. A lawyer for the school is also involved, as well as outside customs and maritime logistics companies.
Much of the published correspondence was redacted, citing reasons including the protection of a public body and the economic interests of a third party. The school confirmed Tuesday that the redacted conversations did not involve security.
In late November, an OceanGate representative said in an email to Singleton and Clarke that there had been considerable enthusiasm within the company over the weekend, as a special report on the Titan’s 2022 voyage to the Titanic had been broadcast on CBS News in the United States.
The report includes Rush showing off the Titan’s sleek interior, which included a single power button, two video screens and a repurposed game controller to steer the 6.7-meter ship.
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CBS reporter David Pogue is also seen signing a waiver before boarding the Titan.
“This experimental vessel has not been approved or certified by any regulatory agency and could result in physical harm, emotional trauma, or death,” Pogue said, appearing to read directly from the document in front of him. “Where should I sign?”
Deep-diving experts had been warning for years about the Titan’s shoddy construction and lack of certification. In 2018, a group of engineers wrote a letter to Rush warning that the company’s “experimental” approach could have catastrophic consequences.
Even as the submarine was under construction, red flags were raised. In January 2018, David Lochridge, then OceanGate’s director of marine operations, filed a report identifying serious safety issues, including improper testing of its carbon fiber hull, according to court documents filed in Washington state .
The company’s agreement with the Marine Institute identifies OceanGate as “a group of ocean explorers, scientists and filmmakers dedicated to manned exploration of the ocean depths.”
It focuses on collaborating on research and training opportunities and promoting ocean literacy. Marine Institute students will have the opportunity to “join OceanGate expeditions to gain internship experience,” it says.
The document is signed by Rush and Paul Brett, who is listed as acting vice president of the institute. Brett is not included in much of the discussion of the document.
However, he sent an email in 2019 saying he was aware of OceanGate’s activities. “From what I know, they are sightseeing,” he wrote. “We met them last year.”
The school said Tuesday that the term “expeditions” used in the memorandum of understanding had a general meaning and did not specifically refer to missions aboard the Titan.
The end result of the partnership was that OceanGate used the institute’s storage space, a service the school frequently offers to maritime organizations. The Titan was seen by some tourist groups visiting the institute’s campus in St. John’s, the release added.
Pelley said the memorandum of understanding was “a general agreement on the types of partnerships that could have existed,” but not a binding agreement. This would only have happened after doing due diligence, he said.