First, lets review Titanic's own case, for both of you who have not seen the movie. Titanic brushed the iceberg with her starboard bow so that it ground against the hull plates. She was not gashed open, but the pressure on the plates buckled them and popped rivets, opening the hull to a myriad of small leaks at the seams. Yes, the steel was brittle by today's standards - but it passed all tests required at the time. They only tested for slow elongation and bending - and with the metal at 80 degrees fahrenheit, at that. The total area opened was only some 12 square feet - but, crucially, it was continued over 250 feet of the hull.
Twelve square feet meant more flooding than the pumps could handle - a ton every five seconds. It was spread over the first five watertight compartments, plus leakage into the sixth up from the floor plates. Had it only been the first four compartments, they would have filled up to the waterline and it would have stopped there.
After the first two, the bulkheads only went up to "E" deck (highlighted
by the dark line), a just 10' above the waterline. Filling
even the first five compartments meant that the bow would be depressed
enough for the fifth bulkhead to go below the waterline, spilling water
into the sixth compartment, then the seventh, and so on. Like many
engineering disasters, their failure was not of calculation, but of imagination
- they just didn't imagine this failure mode.
(blue area is that below normal waterline when loaded) Marked up from a drawing in "The Shipbuilder" magazine in 1911
The red lines show how much higher these bulkheads were taken in the sister ships, Olympic and Britannic - after the disaster. It wasn't so much the cost of building them that was a problem - it was that they made movement about the ship more difficult for passengers and stewards alike - and bad service is always bad for business.
Period Cutaway Illustration
This period illustration shows the water level rising over the watertight bulkheads and spilling backwards, as people flee towards higher decks. The third class passengers were not kept back as any kind of policy to keep them from the boats; there was simply no policy at all - some were escorted right up, others told to wait, as lower classes always waited for everything while upper classes went first. All 32 of the engineering staff, right down to the Assistant Sixth Engineer and the Extra Assistant Fourth Engineer - Refrigeration, remained at their posts in the lower decks, desperately keeping the lights and pumps running until the last few minutes. Not one survived. Neither did any of the nine-man "guarantee team" of engineers and tradesmen provided by the Harland & Wolff shipyards to assist with the shakedown. Unlike the eight-man band, these 41 engineering staff were seldom immortalized as heroes in newspapers or the various movies.
Sepia Thomas Andrews Photograph
The head of the guarantee team was the Managing Director of Harland & Wolff, Thomas Andrews. Andrews had lived shipbuilding since he was 16. A completely dedicated engineer he often arrived at the yard at 4 AM. He didn't read novels or even newspapers, just devoted all his time to mathematics and his profession. He was something of a hero to the 17,000 Irishmen of the shipyard despite his upper-class credentials as the nephew of Lord Pirrie, owner of Harland & Wolff. Workers told stories of him in his twenties saving men from falls, dodging hot rivets and laughing about it, and taking dangerous construction jobs rather than let a married man do them. (He was 39 with a wife and two-year-old daughter when he boarded the Titanic.)
H&W Design Department
Andrews was promoted from running Harland & Wolff's Design Department, shown here. He is described as Titanic's builder, and the term is no exaggeration. He had personally done the overall design, not only for her structure and mechanical, but even much the interior decor and furnishings; and then went on to manage the whole yard as she was built. Titanic was his creation more than anyone else's.
Great Eastern at Launch
Now let's flash backwards 54 years. The "Great Eastern" was the last creation of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, England's most celebrated engineer of nineteenth century - or perhaps any other. The Great Eastern is shown here during her arduous launching from her birthplace by the Thames, there being no dry-dock in 1858 that could have held her. At 700 feet long and over 25,000 tons, her length and displacement were not exceeded for almost 50 years. At the time, she was six times the size of the next biggest ship ever built.
The Great Eastern; showing paddle-wheels & winch
This view shows her enormous paddle-wheels - she also had screw propulsion from different engines, and sails, making her almost immune to immobilization from mechanical failure. In the foreground is the huge chain link winch being used to launch her broadside into the Thames.
Brunel in front of the chain links
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, posing in front of the 60 pound chain links of the winch. He was a hero, not to one company, but a whole nation. All England resounded with his praises. Building the Great Eastern, and two previous record breaking ships that had advanced the shipbuilding art in their time, was only one engineering field that he revolutionized. He would have been wealthy and famous for his other accomplishments - tunnels, railroads...
Bristol Railroad Station
... and the some of the most beloved of England's huge railroad stations, like this one in Bristol.
Royal Albert Bridge
And also, of course, the large suspension bridges that the new iron technologies had made practical. Some still survive, like the Royal Albert Bridge shown here under construction. He was, quite simply, a star.
The Economist, May 18th, 1998, pg 91
The photograph of him in front of the Great Eastern appeared again in "The Economist" magazine just last May in an article asking why engineers are no longer considered heroes and stars - It asks, "Why are architects celebrated and engineers anonymous?"
Currier and Ives Lithograph of the Great Eastern
When he designed the Great Eastern, the investors trusted him almost absolutely. He got a nearly every feature he desired. She was considered the wonder of the age, and thousands of these Currier & Ives lithographs were sold before she was even launched.
Great Eastern sections and model
(from "The Great Iron Ship" by James Dugan)
To quell fears about sailing in such a monster, Brunel was obsessive in designing her for safety. The Great Eastern, like the Titanic, had fifteen transverse bulkheads. Hers, however, went a full 30' above the water line, right to the top deck in the fore and aft. In the engine rooms, they were lower, but the engines were further protected by longitudinal bulkheads on either side. The middle deck was also watertight, further subdividing the compartments into some 50 in all. And to even get this far, a breach had to first go through a double hull - the second hull two feet inside the outer. Military strategists and nuclear plant designers speak of "defense in depth". This was defense in depth against flooding.
Cofferdam section from 1917 Scientific American
(from "The Great Iron Ship" by James Dugan)
In late August of 1862, the design was put to the test a day out of her U.S. port at Flushing Bay, New York. There was a grinding noise and a slight heel to port - but she made Flushing a few hours later without incident, listing a little to starboard. The outer hull had been ripped open by rock spire still called Great Eastern Rock on the charts. The breach was 83 feet long by 9 wide, perhaps 60 times the area of Titanic's damage - but the inner hull was unhurt and the inside was dry. This diagram from a 1917 article in the Scientific American shows her being repaired using a carved wooden cofferdam clamped to her side, an invention of another great engineer, Professor James Renwick of Columbia University.
With few exceptions, later liners cut these features. The double hull was extremely expensive and ate up space; longitudinal bulkheads made it difficult for stokers to work, and, as mentioned, watertight decks and bulkheads made it difficult to get around the ship.
And the competitive pressures were intense! This table comes from the enthralling book, "Cunard and the North Atlantic: a History of Shipping and Financial Management". Here are nautical tales to stir the blood, me hearties! The triumph of 1889, when the Cunard line made over 200,000 pounds; the breathtaking suspense of 1884 when they barely broke even; and the heartbreak of 94-95, when they lost big time, two years running.
|Cunard Line Profits, 1880-1899 (£ , 1000's)|
|Year||Non-operating Income||Non-operating Expenditure||Net Non-operating profit/loss||Total Net Income|
I should not make fun - cash flow was the life-blood that made the
shipbuilding possible. This chart shows the outlines of the ships
that Cunard developed from 1840 to 1900 - a more than linear growth in
length, and more than a cube growth in displacement.
(as shown in "The Liners" by Terry Coleman, pg 35)
Cunard's sum displacement for the line went from 8000 tons to 136,000 during this period. And all the while speed was increasing. The technological and cost curves were nearly exponential, like the computer industry today, as they went from wood to iron to steel, and paddle-wheels to single-screws to double. And you had to advance and present the public with the latest, biggest product or lose all market share. They were perpetually a few percent of their income away from red ink - because when they did make big profits they mostly had to be reinvested.
Puck Magazine Cover (from Coleman's "The Liners" pg 53)
And the competition was not just between companies, but countries, which often subsidized their lines. Cunard itself had a subsidy for carrying the mail. In the 1890's, when Britain's Inman line went broke, she was purchased by Americans who cut a subsidy deal with Congress. President Harrison himself raised the Stars & Stripes on one of the two Inman flagships, the City of Paris.
Puck Magazine Detail
As this detail from the cover of the popular Puck magazine says, "it came high, but we had to have it"... it was a matter of national pride - and strategy - to get America back in the Merchant Marine game with the high-tech British. America had been a major commercial shipbuilder in the days of wood and sail. When steamers had obsoleted the technology, America had been striken by the Civil War and unable to effectively play catch-up with the world-leading British. It was commercially and, in the end, militarily important to get back in the game. The competition was friendly in a sense, deadly earnest in another. Sometimes commerce, like war, is an extension of politics by other means.
Paris & New York Illustration (from "The Liners" pg. 37)
I myself prefer this illustration not only showing the flag on both Inmans twin steamers, the City of New York, and the City of Paris...
Paris & New York Illustration Detail
... but shows the British Lion and John Bull (the English equivalent of John Q. Public) being thrown overboard. As I said, it was a cutthroat business. The international competition gave the shipbuilders the same cry to the government about regulations that is still heard today: that costly regulation would cause them to lose business to other countries, in this case Germans and the French.
Here's a ledger the accountants didn't keep.
|1895||Elbe||North German Lloyd||
|1904||Norge||United Steamship Co.||
|1907||Berlin||North German Lloyd||
|1909||Republic (&Florida)||White Star||
An American line run by Edward Knight Collins in the 1850's was the opposite. They briefly seized half of Cunard's business by beating them with glamour and speed. They drove their ships near to breakdown, wasting fuel to cut half a day off the trip. Newspapers lionized them and made fun of stodgy old Cunard. In 1854, the Collins steamer Arctic had a collision running at full speed in the fog, and only 52 of 330 on board survived. Among the dead were Collins' wife, son and daughter.
Undeterred, he bought another wooden paddle steamer the next year. In 1856, the Pacific was racing the new, faster Cunard Persia to Liverpool. The Persia was the first iron mail steamer, with two longitudinal bulkheads and seven transverse. She limped in three days late with the bow stove in, having hit an iceberg. The Collins Pacific, presumed to have done the same, was never seen again. The newspapers turned against Collins, the line lost its mail subsidy from Congress, and was sold to creditors.
The loss of the White Star Atlantic, which stranded and broke up in
sight of land forty years before the Titanic with the loss of over 500
lives, is an echo of the errors of the Titanic: the inquiry said that they
ran at full speed upon well known rocks, at night, in fine weather.
I also snuck the loss of the White Star Republic onto the list by counting
the four lives lost on the Italian ship, the Florida, which collided with
her. While all the passengers were saved, the point is that they
were going at full speed in heavy fog, and could not avoid collision even
though they heard each other's fog whistles.
White Star was as good a line as almost any of them; all of them were culpable of such behaviour. Even Cunard's unbroken record is acknowledged to be partly luck.
There were some ships where the design worked; the Guion Line "Arizona" hit an iceberg going 15 knots in heavy fog in 1879, and it telescoped 25 feet of her bow. But she had 7 transverse bulkheads that went all the way to the top deck and the collision bulkhead held, letting them make Halifax. It increased the public perception that iron liners were unsinkable, increasing industry traffic in general, and certainly the Arizona's ticket sales in particular.
Cunard's Servia, in 1881, actually had a double hull, the only other mention of such in a civilian ship I could find in the era. There were also 12 transverse bulkheads, 8 of them all the way to the top. The Servia was also the first steel ship, which saved so much weight that the extra cost was well repaid in fuel saved. I think the pattern here is that when engineers introduced a great new technology that saved money, or brought in business, they could get their way with design features for a while. Then all the lines would get the technology, and competition would bring the cuts again.
City of Paris/New York
Another example would be the aforementioned "City of Paris" and "City of New York" twins of the Inman line that the Americans bought. They were the first twin-screw ships, faster, bigger, more luxurious and very lucrative. The twin screws allowed a single longitudinal bulkhead down the middle, between the engine rooms; and the transverse bulkheads went 18 feet above the water line. So there were some more conservatively designed ships just a decade before the Titanic.
Naval Architects argue about whether the extra bulkheads are really safer, but you can't argue about the lifeboats. Lifeboats are the final layer of defense in depth. Without lifeboats, you really have all your eggs in one basket - the worst nightmare of risk management. The British Board of Trade Rules for supplying them were based on cubic feet of lifeboat space per ton of ship... not on the number of people aboard. By these antiquated regulations, Titanic had more lifeboats than she needed. But the Board's Advisory Committee was dominated by ship owners, who didn't want the expense and especially not the deck space used up.
The Managing Director of Harland & Wolff before Andrews, while Titanic was still being designed, was Alexander Carlisle. He ordered these davits that could have held four boats each - but he suggested only faintly and timidly that even two boats per davit actually be supplied. Bruce Ismay of White Star didn't take the hint, and Carlisle, not wanting to offend the biggest customer, didn't press it.
The lack of lifeboats was exacerbated by poor procedure. There had been only one lifeboat drill, in dock, with one boat full of the ship's best seamen. When the time came, there was confusion about how many they could hold and how to lower them.
Unbelievably, Cunard had not learned from White Star's Titanic when the Cunard Lusitania was torpedoed three years later by a German U-boat. The passengers had asked the Captain twice to hold a lifeboat drill for all of them to practice. He refused, holding only a one-boat drill with his own crew. When they had just 18 minutes to save themselves after the explosions...
They had another mob scene trying to load boats, they dropped boats into the sea, they lowered boats onto other boats, and they saved a total of 38% of the almost 2000 people aboard. Three months later, the White Star Arabic was torpedoed only 50 miles from the same spot with 500 aboard. Over 90% survived, though she sank in only nine minutes. Preparation makes all the difference.
Let's turn to the aftermath and the outrage that brought about change. Even some very conservative and popular Titanic histories openly say that Lord Mersey's British Inquiry was a whitewash, blaming the disaster on unique conditions and exonerating all involved. This exchange is notable in that a witness correctly says that an unsinkable ship is impossible. But then they make a logical leap from that to actually laughing at the notion of a double hull, as if it were absurd to even strive for reduced sinkability.
MERSEY: 'I suppose it is impossible to make a ship
unsinkable and at the same time a commercial success? You can, of course,
conceive of an iron box riveted so that nobody can get into it, but that
would not do as a ship... I suppose that some people would say you should
carry the double bottom up to the upper deck?' [Laughter]
Has an unsinkable ship ever been constructed?
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL: They are sometimes called unsinkable, but that means under conditions which comprise every form of disaster so far known.
(As quoted in "The Liners", by Terry Coleman, pg 83)
Six months later, the idea wasn't so funny. The sister ship Olympic was in dry-dock being fitted with an inner skin and bulkheads that went 20 feet higher. The price was a quarter again of her original construction cost. But competitive positions between lines suffered little, as everybody was suddenly spending on these previously unaffordable features. Other ships in construction in England and Germany went to double hulls and high bulkheads in mid-construction.
New York Herald, April 18th, 1912, p. 5
New York Herald, April 18th, 1912, pg. 6
... ice patrols, safer southern routes, new wireless procedures. And most of all, for ships to slow down, especially in fog.
New York Globe, April 19th, Front page
Any doubts I might have had about the importance of this were set to rest by the introduction to the chapter on watertight subdivision in the classic text "Principles of Naval Architecture", by James Robertson. A committee of engineers had recommended new subdivision rules in 1891. They were ignored until the loss of the Elbe in 1897 with 303 lives, and then there was only partial compliance. Robertson points out that it was only the Titanic that caused a convention on safety in 1913 where all nations agreed to the same method.
There was another "Safety Of Life At Sea" (SOLAS) conference in 1929, But the U.S. only ratified it in 1936 after the loss of the Mohawk to collision, and the Morro Castle by fire. Robertson puts it in a nutshell when he says that a 1948 convention had only slightly stricter requirements because it "did not have behind it the compelling force of recent sea tragedies and aroused public opinion". He says it took the shocking loss of the Andrea Doria in 1956 to force a 1960 convention that brought about subdivision formulae and other safety standards close to those used today.
The week in 1995 I wrote the original essay, thousands of semi-trailers in Canada were being pulled off the road to have their outer wheels inspected. Two cars full of people had been killed in two weeks by semi wheels that had come loose and run wild. It turned out that such things had been happening every month or two all along; this was just the first time that several fatalities had happened. As individuals, we may learn from close shaves and warnings; as a society we only learn from blood.
Oil Tanker Book cover
Thus ends the core of my tale, but I have some interesting asides for you. A web search on "double hull" not only told me about the Cunard Servia, but the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which mandated double hulls for oil tankers... one year after the Exxon Valdez tripled the global yearly oil spill average and caused a hundred-fold increase in media and public attention.
The report summary on the web mentions that double hulls will increase oil transporation costs by 10%, which to a ship owner is appalling; but it only increases oil prices by a tenth of that, or 1%, (and the price of a tank of gas by a nickel, according to the Coast Guard). After the Valdez, few consumers are going to begrudge a nickel a tank to cut the chance of a repetition.
Which brings me to a related topic: safety can be marketed as a product like any other and most consumers are happy to pay for it when they are educated about the risks. Detroit at first fought the addition of $12 seat belts in cars and hassled Ralph Nader for pushing the issue; after Volvo and Mercedes made safer designs a premium feature, Detroit began to change and they now advertise expensive airbags in the same breath as the CD player. My wife took me out of the loop on the choice of model for our last car when she heard the '95 Saturn had dual airbags, standard. Perhaps that's why today, while Cunard lines use their one-line description space at upscaletours.com to tout their "ocean liner amenities and yachting ambiance"...
... and Seabourn lines uses their space to advertise their "small, elegant ships and country-club accommodations"...
... the smaller Radisson line specifically mentions a ship with a unique double hull design.
"Cruise Ship Runs Aground in Florida", Associated Press Feb. 19,1998
I assume they mean that the design is unique, not a double hull on a cruise ship. It can't a premium feature, since Carnival Lines are considered the "Wal-Mart" of the industry by their competitors, and this Carnival Cruise ship avoided a nasty incident because of a double hull just a few years back. A harbour pilot with a bad safety record and a drunk driving conviction scraped bottom near Florida. The ship was cleared to sail on her journey after an inspection by divers showed only a minor breach of one cell of the outer hull.
RINA Home page
The touchiest thing in risk management is the calculation of cost per fatality averted. It makes perfect sense to an engineer, but in public debate, such numbers can always be twisted in any direction. On the web I found an excellent site at rina.org.uk, the Royal Institution of Naval Architects. (Thomas Andrews joined it in 1901) They've sponsored many conferences, including one on ship survivability.
Ship Survivability Article Summary
Public attention had been drawn by some car ferry disasters just before. The problem for the engineer is to tackle these fears with his own art, which involves quantifying things.
The summary of one paper in those conference proceedings went right to the heart of the issue - he had calculated the cost per fatality averted for various different approaches of ship subdivision, so as to recommend which design to use. This is good engineering and I wish all society thought that way; but I guarantee you that any politician or top bureaucrat will flee the room, eyes averted, if he shows them the paper; they'll want deniability in public debate.
In 1995, Bob
Dole took a walk in this mine field when he led a congressional charge
to hold back certain regulatory efforts, in particular increased scrutiny
of the meat industry. Dole and his allies surely never mentioned
exact figures for the money-cost vs. lifesaving-benefit of the proposed
... but the always merciless satire of the Doonesbury comic strip quickly knocked the issue down to the one unmentionable question: What is a human life worth?
Just as the oil tanker hulls can be viewed as a nickel per tank of gas, you can always twist these kinds of figures to something that sounds damning if you're proposing not to spend it.
... and of course, Doonesbury always has to take a kick at the tobacco industry. (Which of course makes all these casualty lists look small.)
(N.B. All four "Doonesbury" images above copyright Garry
Trudeau, 1995. NOT used with permission. I believe
the excerpt counts as "fair use", and in any event, I've deliberately kept
the image quality rotten. Doonesbury has a wonderful
web site to which I commend your attention, and of course the book
"Virtual Doonsbury" from which these are taken.)
I'm a waterworks engineer; this is the last lecture today I'm going to keep up in. Before this, I did some transportation work, and a couple of years of structural design. And I think that all engineers face the same two kinds of problems in the end. The junior ones have to crank out the most effective design they can, given a cost envelope and set of standards. The senior ones have to run the calc in reverse, starting with a design that fits their conscience, to sit on the standards committees, and push for the cost envelope that will make it possible. Sometimes they don't, or can't, push hard enough. But to be fair, they do have a handicap Ė scientific people often donít communicate well with policy makers, or the general public. They tend to argue with facts, formulas, simulations, and other kinds of sweet reason. These donít work well.
What does work well are shameless appeals to emotion - like political cartoons. Like baby seals covered in oil. And always, always, casualty lists. Best of all are individual stories of casualties, to make the deaths real. We only learn from blood.
Thomas Andrews, B&W photo
The individual casualty that haunts me is Thomas Andrews, the builder. He was seen, just minutes before the final plunge, not by star-crossed lovers, but by a steward who called at him to come jump for it. Andrews seemed not to hear, lost in thought. The steward jumped, swam, and survived. Andrews did not.
Smoking Room, colour drawing
His quick conclusion that the ship was doomed when nobody else would have believed it had given everyone a head start and undoubtedly saved many lives. After spending the rest of the evening energetically encouraging women into lifeboats, he was in the First Class Smoking Room, perhaps the most expensive per square foot in the ship. Andrews had done much of the interior design, providing it with heavy mahogany paneling, carved in place, then inlaid with mother-of-pearl. There were leaded glass windows, stained glass artworks, and a working fireplace.
Fourth Funnel Area Cutaway
Standing amidst the opulence of the smoking room, just behind the fourth funnel, beside the equally rich palm court verandah and other rooms on which no expense had been spared, not where the customers could see it being spent,
Ballard breakup illustration
... he would still have been dry when Titanic's own weight broke her back and tore her in two. His creation's end was the last sound he ever heard.
Smoking Room, photograph
It was this choice of a place to die that makes me like to think that he had one comforting thought as he waited there. The phenomenon of disaster bringing higher safety standards of design and procedure was clear even before his time. Perhaps he realized that the loss of the Titanic, with all its millionaires and celebrities, would hit the world like a bombshell, changing standards overnight.
With the Atlantic trade still expanding exponentially, these changes would almost certainly save hundreds or thousands of lives from many smaller sinkings averted, losses that each by themselves would have been too small to bring about change.
So I like to think that he was consoled by some thoughts of all the lives Titanic's death would save, when the ever-hungry North Atlantic made the last grand entrance of the evening into that lavish Georgian drawing room, to take away his sorrow and unbearable shame.
Newspaper for sale
Thank you for you kind attention. I hope the symposium brings about some improvements in the state of your art.
|The Night Lives On||Walter Lord||1986|
|A Night to Remember||Walter Lord||1955|
|Titanic: An Illustrated History||Don Lynch||1992|
|The Discovery of the Titanic||Robert Ballard||1987|
|The Great Iron Ship||James Dugan||1953|
|The Liners||Terry Coleman||1976|| Dewey|
|Fifty Famous Liners||Frank Braynard||1982||Dewey|
|Principles of Naval Architecture||John P. Comstock, ed.||1967||LOC|
VM 145 C64
|Rules for Building and Classing Steel Vessels||American Bureau of Shipping||1984||LOC|
VM 287 A44
|Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean||Vernon Gibb||1952||Dewey|
|"Ship" and "Shipbuilding" articles, The Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition||Sir Phillip Watts||1911|
|The Blue Riband of the North Atlantic||Tom Hughes||1973||Dewey|
|From Paddle-Wheel to Nuclear Ship||William Avery||1965||LOC|
VM 315 B33
|Metallurgy of the RMS Titanic||Tim Foecke||1997||NIST-IR 6118|
|Exploring the Lusitania||Robert Ballard||1995||Dewey 940.4514|
|Virtual Doonesbury||Garry Trudeau||1996|
"The Lessons of Valujet 592" |
Atlantic Monthly, March 1998
|The Works of Isambard Kingdom Brunel||Alfred Pugsley, ed||1976||624 BRU W|
I have lost track of the Web sites to which I'm indebted. Some of them are already linked from the body of the above text. I'll name just a couple below, and since they in turn link to many more, the inquisitive can find their way around as easily as I did.
Encyclopedia Titanica, Philip Hind
The Titanic Historical Society
The Titanic Web Ring, John Ostrowski
Homage to Thomas Andrews, "Builder of the Ship of Dreams"
Ship Losses Around Britain