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Friday, June 21, 2024

Titanic Sub’s Legal Troubles: Massive Lawsuit Over Permissible Depths

Newly uncovered legal documents obtained by The New Republic shed light on an employee’s safety complaints regarding the tourist submersible that recently went missing during its expedition to the Titanic wreck.

The submersible was owned and operated by OceanGate, the parent company overseeing tourist ventures to the wreck.

The documents reveal that the concerned employee, David Lochridge, formerly the director of marine operations responsible for the crew and client safety, had raised issues about the sub’s inability to withstand extreme depths.

These revelations emerged during a legal dispute in 2018, wherein Lochridge refused to authorize manned tests of early submersible prototypes due to safety concerns.

Consequently, OceanGate terminated Lochridge’s employment and subsequently sued him for breaching confidentiality by disclosing sensitive information about the Titan submersible.

In response, Lochridge filed a counterclaim, asserting wrongful termination based on his role as a whistleblower, aiming to shed light on the submersible’s subpar quality and safety standards.

Lochridge, in his counterclaim, alleged that “rather than addressing Lochridge’s concerns, OceanGate instead summarily terminated Lochridge’s employment in efforts to silence Lochridge and to avoid addressing the safety and quality control issues.”

The counterclaim said that:

Given the prevalent flaws in the previously tested 1/3 scale model, and the visible flaws in the carbon end samples for the Titan, Lochridge again stressed the potential danger to passengers of the Titan as the submersible reached extreme depths. The constant pressure cycling weakens existing flaws resulting in large tears of the carbon. Non-destructive testing was critical to detect such potentially existing flaws in order to ensure a solid and safe product for the safety of the passengers and crew.

According to the counterclaim, there was a meeting held at OceanGate’s facility in Everett, Washington, involving the engineering staff, where multiple individuals expressed their concerns to the Engineering Director. In response, OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush assigned Lochridge the task of conducting a quality inspection of the Titan submersible. The counterclaim provides further details of the incident.

Over the course of the next several days, Lochridge worked on his report and requested paperwork from the Engineering Director regarding the viewport design and pressure test results of the viewport for the Titan, along with other key information. Lochridge was met with hostility and denial of access to the necessary documentation that should have been freely available as part of his inspection process.

Following Lochridge’s initial verbal expression of concerns regarding the safety and quality of the Titan submersible to OceanGate executive management, his concerns were disregarded. Lochridge took the initiative to identify several issues that posed significant safety risks and provided recommendations for corrective actions. One specific area of concern was the lack of non-destructive testing performed on the submersible’s hull.

Despite Lochridge’s insistence on conducting a scan of the hull or Bond Line to check for delaminations, porosity, and voids caused by inadequate adhesive bonding, he was repeatedly informed that such testing could not be carried out due to the thickness of the hull. Moreover, he was informed that the required testing equipment was unavailable.

After Lochridge submitted his inspection report, OceanGate officials scheduled a meeting on January 19, 2018. Attendees included the CEO, human resources director, engineering director, Lochridge himself, and the operations director. The counterclaim proceeds to provide further details regarding the meeting.

At the meeting Lochridge discovered why he had been denied access to the viewport information from the Engineering department—the viewport at the forward of the submersible was only built to a certified pressure of 1,300 meters, although OceanGate intended to take passengers down to depths of 4,000 meters. Lochridge learned that the viewport manufacturer would only certify to a depth of 1,300 meters due to experimental design of the viewport supplied by OceanGate, which was out of the Pressure Vessels for Human Occupancy (“PVHO”) standards. OceanGate refused to pay for the manufacturer to build a viewport that would meet the required depth of 4,000 meters.

It’s important to note that the Titanic rests at an approximate depth of nearly 13,000 feet on the ocean floor.

According to Lochridge’s complaints, paying passengers were not made aware of his concerns, nor were they informed about the use of hazardous and flammable materials within the submersible. Lochridge expressed his concerns regarding the Titan once again, but OceanGate failed to address them, ultimately resulting in Lochridge’s termination.

The legal case between Lochridge and OceanGate did not progress significantly, and a few months later, the parties settled.

As of Tuesday, the Coast Guard reported that an extensive search operation has covered 10,000 square miles since the Titan submersible went missing on Sunday afternoon. It is reported that there were five people on board, and the submersible could remain submerged for approximately 96 hours, as stated by The Guardian.

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