The Curious Case of Stockton Rush and the OceanGate Titan Implosion
It is hard to tell how many submersibles there are in the ocean but on June 18, there was one submersible everyone was talking about the OceanGate Titan.
The Titan is a 22-foot, 5-passenger submersible owned and operated by American tourism and deep-sea exploration company OceanGate that takes passengers to tour the wreckage of the Titanic in an area off the coast of Newfoundland that is known to be one of the deepest, darkest, remote areas of the ocean.
After the submersible went missing on June 18, US and Canada search & rescue crews exhausted countless hours desperately searching for the missing sub before learning of its catastrophic implosion sealing the fate of the Titan and its 5 passengers on board.
As the debris from the Titan implosion was recovered from the ocean floor about 1600 meters from the Titanic wreckage it started to paint a picture of what went wrong and what marine expeditions can do to prevent future subs from meeting the same fate.
But as business owners and entrepreneurs, there are also valuable lessons to be learned from this now infamous modern-day tragedy.
The OceanGate Incidence
While the OceanGate tragedy spread like wildfire through traditional and social media outlets, there are still those who have no idea of the OceanGate tragedy. If you are one of those, sit tight as we get you up to speed.
It all started on June 18, 2023. When OceanGate's Titan submersible lost communication with its land crew. Under the impression the submersible was still operational US and Canada search and rescue crews deployed resources to locate the missing submersible with a heightened sense of urgency believing the submersible had a limited supply of oxygen. The search intensified for days until a debris field believed to be that of the Titan was spotted just 1600 meters from the Titanic wreckage site on June 22, 2023. At that time it was concluded the OceanGate Titan Submersible had suffered a catastrophic implosion, killing all 5 passengers on board.
The people who lost their lives onboard were:
Hamish Harding, this daring British adventurer.
Shahzada Dawood, Pakistani-British businessman.
And his 19-year-old son … Suleman Dawood
A French diver, Paul-Henri Nargeolet who was all about exploring the Titanic.
And the CEO of OceanGate … Stockton Rush.
It isn’t only their families and friends who felt the pain of this loss … The deep-sea exploration community is also in sadness after this great loss.
What the Tragedy Did to the Business
While the families of those five passengers have been left to pick up the pieces of their lives and mourn their loved ones following the Titan implosion …The future of OceanGate is uncertain as it has suspended all its operations and tours to the Titanic pending the ongoing investigation that led to the submersible’s implosion.
And the general public has been left with more questions than answers as more and more details about the manufacturing, operations, and safety of the Titan submersible have come into question.
Everything from the cylinder design of the sub to the carbon fiber material that was used for the pressure hull to the long-standing history of communication and mechanical issues that led to aborted Titan tours. OceanGate is facing bad publicity with every news outlet and opinion blog having something to say about the incident.
With so many unanswered questions and scrutiny about OceanGate, it has seriously impacted its ability to attract customers and investors. And at the time of this video, it’s still unknown whether or not OceanGate had insurance and if that insurance will cover the costs of the incident. However it has been rumored the Titan was NOT insured and in fact, no credible insurance company would ever insure the submersible given its experimental design.
As people started digging into the design and operation of the Titan submersible more and more videos of Stockton Rush explaining the peculiar ins and outs of the 22-foot submersible the public started to question if Stockton Rush was an innovative entrepreneur or something a little more sinister.
Stockton Rush: Who was He?
Richard Stockton Rush III who was born into a very prestigious family, was said to be a direct descendent of 2 signers of The United States of America’s Declaration of Independence. Dr. Benjamin Rush and Richard Stockton. Also quite notably Stockton was married to Wendy Rush who is the great-great granddaughter of retailing magnate Isidor Straus and his wife, Ida, who were part of the group of more than 1500 people who perished during the Titanic’s maiden voyage in 1912.
As a child, Stockton dreamt of becoming an astronaut and becoming the first person on Mars and had an interest in aviation and aquatics. He began scuba diving at age 12. He studied mechanical engineering in California Berkley and at the age of 18, he became one of the youngest commercial pilots ever. However, he was later told his visual acuity would disqualify him from becoming a military pilot as he had hoped.
Stockton worked as an aerospace engineer before shifting his focus from aviation to deep-sea exploration.
After conducting market research Rush discovered that there was a public interest in people who wanted to actively participate in exploring the depths of the ocean beyond scuba diving and snorkeling.
Shortly after, Rush founded OceanGate and spearheaded its mission to provide submersible tours to the iconic Titanic wreck site. Not only did Stockton and OceanGate offer submersible tours to iconic sites like the Titanic, but they also contributed to scientific research and discovery.
While on the surface, Stockton Rush seemed like a charming, innovative businessman, in the aftermath of the Titan implosion, the public has taken a deeper look into Stockton Rush, his mindset, business practices, and approach to marine safety.
The Red Flags
After the OceanGate tragedy, there was an increased examination of the company’s ways, and all the factors surrounding that catastrophic expedition. It was like a parent following a trail of crumbs to a naughty toddler who has stolen cake from the fridge.
As each day passes it seems as if red flags related to the OceanGate tragedy are still popping up but there are a few that stick out like a sore thumb:
Red Flag #1: The Carbon Fiber & Cylinder Design
In Stockton’s desire to bring innovation to deep-sea exploration, the Titan was made up of two titanium domes joined together by a five-inch-thick cylinder of carbon fiber. While carbon fiber has been widely used in the aviation industry for its ability to withstand external atmospheric pressure, it has NOT been tested or authorized for a deep-sea submersible. Most submersibles have a hull made of stronger materials like steel or titanium.
“A carbon fiber has no strength in compression," film director and deep-dive expert James Cameron, who visited the Titanic shipwreck a dozen times and designed vessels for his explorations, told The New York Times.
But the carbon fiber wasn’t the only thing that made the design of the Titan different from most submersibles. The Titan had a cylinder design which was very usual in the deep-sea exploration community. All other submersibles followed a similar sphere-shaped design which allowed for the external water pressure exerted against the submersible to be balanced equally in all areas, while the 22-foot-long Titan’s cylinder shape meant it was subjected to more unbalanced external pressure which increased the fatigue and delamination loads.
Red Flag #2: Warnings & Lawsuits
According to various reports, the Titan was NOT certified and the vessel never passed any industry-standard safety testing nor has been approved or certified by any regulatory body. In 2019, the company stated that due to the unique design and expeditions, the submersible did not need to undergo any safety testing beyond the internal independent testing conducted within the company.
The fact Stockton Rush was one of the 5 explorers onboard the Titan when it imploded, the world is curious to know if Stockton thought the submersible was in fact safe and fit for operation. Did he know implosion was a real possibility?
As more and more questions arose about the Titan and its faulty design, internet sleuths went to digging for answers and uncovered a history of warnings from leading industry experts and lawsuits from concerned employees and disgruntled customers.
According to a court filing obtained by Insider, In January 2018, OceanGate had been warned about the safety risks associated with using carbon fiber by former OceanGate director of marine operations David Lochridge. David also reported that he found that the vessel's front viewport was only certified to a depth of about 4,200 feet, far less than the depth of the Titanic.
Just one day after Lochridge shared his safety concerns regarding the submersible, Lochridge was abruptly terminated from his position and escorted out of the building. Which led to Lochridge filing a wrongful termination lawsuit. OceanGate would later claim Lochridge had revealed trade secrets, committed fraud, and breached his contract — allegations that Lochridge has denied.
Just two months later, OceanGate faced similarly dire calls from more than three dozen industry leaders, deep-sea explorers, and oceanographers embedded in the deep-sea exploration community — who warned in a letter to Stockton Rush, that the company’s “experimental” approach and its decision to forgo a traditional assessment could lead to potentially “catastrophic” problems with the Titanic mission.
But that wouldn’t be the end of OceanGate’s legal troubles.
Just a few short months prior to the Titan implosion, two previously hopeful clients of OceanGate, Marc and Sharon Hagle filed a legal complaint, alleging the company defrauded them by refusing to refund their $210,000 payment for a Titan submersible trip. The Hagles had booked the trip back in 2018 but faced multiple cancellations by OceanGate due to the submersible not being mission-ready, weather, and other issues.
Red Flag #3: Countless Repairs, Loss Communication & Cancellations
Based on available documentation, it is unknown exactly how many successful trips the Titan made to the Titanic, but based on available information, it seems as if the submersible experienced a greater number of canceled missions than successfully completed ones. Missions to the Titanic were frequently canceled due to hazardous weather conditions, the need for maintenance and repairs to the vessel, and ongoing communication issues.
The Titan sub underwent so much troubleshooting and maintenance, that there is a possibility that these repairs were inadequate or introduced new flaws that sealed the fate of the 22-foot vessel.
The Cost of Cutting Corners in a Business
We should remember that OceanGate is being investigated and the full picture will be clearer at the end of the investigation. However, there are lessons businesses, like yours, can learn from cutting corners.
While Stockton Rush came off as a well-to-do visionary, it seems as if he often cut corners to keep OceanGate afloat and keep scheduling Titanic exploration missions, despite a low mission success rate.
In the world of entrepreneurship, it can be tempting to cut corners to get a product to market as fast as possible, but it’s important to understand that there is a cost to cutting corners in business. That cost can lead to increased safety concerns, a diminishing brand reputation, and even the loss of life for customers and employees.
Cutting corners in business sacrifices the quality of your product or service, leading to dissatisfied customers. You might not notice it right away but over time when you cut corners, you will see a decline in customer loyalty and a decrease in market competitiveness.
Cutting corners can also result in operational inefficiencies, inadequate safety measures, or insufficient compliance with regulations. These shortcuts may lead to accidents like the OceanGate incident discussed today, legal issues, fines, or even the demise of your business. It is always cheaper to invest in quality control than pay for cutting corners.
It might seem ironic but cutting corners doesn’t save cost in the long run. While cutting corners might provide short-term cost savings, the long-term financial impact can be detrimental. Upon available evidence and belief, OceanGate failed to invest in the proper research, safety testing or equipment to cut costs, but as a result, this tragedy will cost far more than what it saved.
Last but not least, depending on the nature of the shortcuts taken, businesses may face legal ramifications. Non-compliance with regulations, safety standards, or ethical guidelines can lead to fines, legal disputes, and reputational damage.
It can never be said enough that the OceanGate incident is a real tragedy that the victims’ families will live with for the rest of their lives.
But as small business owners and entrepreneurs, this can serve as a learning lesson.
It is okay to be a trailblazer … innovator … and creative who thinks outside the box, but … it should NEVER be done at the expense of integrity, safety, and social responsibility. Business owners should find balance in their quest for innovation and safety. Life can be lost when achieving a goal becomes more important than doing what is right.
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