Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The sinking of the Titanic: How fate played a role in it

Final moments of the Titanic

Chief-Engineer Joseph Bell was determined to keep the power going for as long as possible after the collision with the iceberg. The lights would stay lit, the pumps would keep going and the wireless would still work. To make things easier for the men to move about, he had the watertight doors aft of the Boiler Rooms opened. He reasoned that when the water reached that far it would be easy enough to close them.

The crew worked hard to maintain electrical power during the crisis. The engineers did not know if help would come and from their position deep in the heart of the dying ship they were isolated from the open deck. Trapped in a steel tomb, their fear and anguish can only be imagined but they knew what was required of them and they did their duty to the passengers and their fellow seamen. Pumping sea water out of the ship and keeping the electricity on had to be maintained as long as possible and for this reason and to their credit, all the engineers stayed at their tasks until the very end. They all went down with their ship.

Every member of the band also went down with the ship. They had remained on the ship playing their instruments in hopes of keeping the passengers calm. The last piece they played was the hymn, Nearer My God To Thee as the ship was sinking. The young conductor of the band Wallace Hartley strapped his violin to himself and then he entered the water. Later his body and his violin was recovered. In October 2013, his violin was sold at auction for 900,000 English pounds and after the buyer's premium was factored in, the total cost was $1.8 million dollars.

By 2:18 am, all the lights on the ship were no longer on since the water inside the ship short-circuited the generators. With the last lifeboat having been lowered into the water, most of the remaining passengers on board were at the aft end of the sinking ship since by then, the forward part of the ship had been gradually sinking under water at a steep angle. Approximately 700 passengers from steerage had struggled to climb the steep slanting deck towards the aft of the ship. The railings at the stern of the ship were now 200 feet (61 meters) above the surface of the sea.

No one on the ship, in the water or in the lifeboats could really see anything once the lights were extinguished, since there was no moon that night and the stars weren’t bright enough to light up the area. However, the people in the lifeboats and in the water could hear the sounds of the ship’s fittings, furniture, boilers and massive engines crashing through bulkheads towards the bow. The people in the lifeboats and the water couldn’t differentiate between the screams of those on the deck of the ship from those people struggling in the water who were still conscious.

Suddenly there was a loud, crashing sound as the ship began to break in two immediately forward of the third funnel. The wheelhouse crumbled and the funnels, one by one snapped off as they hit the water. At first, the forward half of the ship broke away from the aft half of the ship. It hung to the aft section in suspension and then while it was perpendicular to the surface of the sea, it broke free and headed towards the bottom of the ocean. Gaining velocity as it began its journey under water, the speed of the forward part of the ship heading towards the bottom increased to 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) per hour. It would have taken at least five minutes to reach the seabed.

The aft part of the ship righted itself after being free from the forward half of the ship and settled on the surface of the water temporarily. Then it too began to sink, first at a 60 degree angle and then perpendicular to the surface of the ocean, dragging most of those still on the aft decks down with it. Some passengers immediately jumped from the aft of the ship into the freezing water where almost all of them shortly thereafter died from hypothermia if they weren’t first dragged under water from the suction caused by the ship sinking under them. Some were killed outright when after falling in the air; they landed on others in the water who then were also killed by those who landed on them.

Those who still remained at the stern, who hadn’t grabbed anything that was fixed to the deck, slid down the deck towards the water. The efforts of most of the passengers who were still hanging onto the fixtures were to no avail. As other passengers slammed into them, they and the other passengers slid down the steep decks and then they and those who still managed to hold onto deck fixtures were all dragged under the water by virtue of the suction of the ship. The band members slid off the deck of the stern and into the water when the stern was angled at sixty degrees. Only the band leader, Wallace Hartley was able to hang onto a fixture while the stern slipped under the water. He and the other band members all drowned. The bodies that had been in the forward decks and the aft decks and had been sucked under, soon after rose to the surface but by then, they were all dead. At 2:20 a.m., the aft half of the Titanic was now under water heading towards the bottom of the ocean in a corkscrew manner.

It is believed that there were hundreds of people still in their cabins—most of them immigrants in steerage class when the entire ship was under water. The water pressure increased steadily and if there wasn’t water in their cabins when the ship was slowly sinking, their cabin doors would have burst open from the water in the passageways as it began sinking at a faster pace. Those still in their cabins would have all drowned within seconds after their cabin doors burst open.

After five minutes of relentless descent, the bow of the ship nosed into the floor of the ocean 12,460 feet (3,797 metres—2.3 miles) below the surface. The bow section had struck the ocean floor at a position just under the forepeak, and embedded itself 60 feet (18 metres) into the silt on the ocean floor. The impact was so massive; ejecta patterns are still visible on the seafloor. The large forward section of the ship upon impact completely disintegrated, spewing everything still inside that part of the ship that wasn’t fixed to the floor, onto the sea floor. The bottom part of the bow was driven into the sand and could not be seen years later when the expeditions went down to see the ship. The decks pancaked, hull plates were ripped out, and because of the water pressure of 5,000 pounds (2.5 tons) per square inch, (as there was a two and a half-mile column of water above it) all the compartments exploded.

The stern, lacking a hydrodynamic leading edge like the bow, descended more dramatically as it was tumbling and corkscrewing all the way to the bottom. The fact that it was facing west while the bow was facing east is evidence that both sections cork screwed their way to the bottom during their descents. The aft section’s final resting place was 1,970 feet (600 metres) from the forward section of the Titanic. The aft section was in much worse condition, and appeared to have been torn apart during its descent. Unlike the bow section, which was flooded with water before it sank, it is likely that the stern section sank with a significant volume of air trapped inside it. As it sank, the external water pressure increased but the pressure of the trapped air could not follow suit due to the many air pockets in relatively sealed sections. Therefore, some areas of the stern section's hull suddenly experienced a large pressure differential between outside and inside which possibly caused an implosion. Further damage was caused by the sudden impact of hitting the seabed; with little structural integrity left, the decks collapsed as the stern hit the bottom of the ocean. There on the floor of the ocean, the two sections of the Titanic rested in complete blackness as if they had been placed in a casket and buried. Surrounding the wreck is a large debris field with pieces of the ship, furniture, dinnerware and personal items scattered over 15 square miles (24 km²) with most of it west of the stern.

Softer materials, like wood, carpet and human remains were devoured by undersea organisms. Shoes were found on the seabed in the areas of both sections of the Titanic which is evidence that bodies of the victims that drowned settled on the seabed. There were no signs of any of their bones which means that they were eventually devoured also by undersea organisms. It is also highly unlikely that there were any bones left of the bodies that were still inside the compartments of both sections of the ship. James Cameron who had dived to the Titanic 30 times has said that when they studied the images of the insides of some compartments, they found shoes and jackets which suggests that people were wearing them when the ship was sinking but he added that there were no signs of bones next to these items. Paul Nargeolet, a French minisub pilot who has also dived down to the Titanic 30 times has also said that he too never saw any signs of human remains. Further, none of the bodies would have been eaten by sharks on their way down because sharks don’t swim in cold water and at the time of the sinking of the Titanic, the water was far too cold for them to be swimming in the area of where the Titanic sank.

I remember watching a 1980 movie called, Raise the Titanic. In the movie, they raised the ship in its entirety. Of course even then, the writers and producers had to have known that when the Titanic went down, it had broken in two so the plot of the movie that the entire ship would be raised as one piece was obviously an impossibility. This movie was produced five years before anyone ever saw the rotting ship resting as two distinct parts on the seabed.

The ship is draped in ‘rusticles’—orange stalactites created by iron-eating bacteria. This occurs normally when wrought iron oxidizes under water. Fungi feed on it. Weird colorless life-forms, unfazed by the crushing pressure, prowl its jagged ramparts. Parts of the ship are covered in thick moss and algae. As the years pass by, the ship will be entirely covered with sand because there are sand dunes heading its way. In physical geography, a dune is a hill of sand built either by wind or water flow. Dunes occur in different forms and sizes, formed by interaction with the flow of air or water. When the sand dunes under water approach the ship, the Titanic will truly be buried under the sand along with everything else that has fallen from the ship and is lying on the seabed.

The Carpathian rescues the survivors and heads towards Halifax

While it was sinking, the Titanic had radioed to other ships in the area but was only able to reach the R.M.S. Carpathia which was 93 kilometers (58 miles) away. The Carpathia arrived about four hours later, at 4:00 a.m., to rescue the estimated 705 survivors.

It was decided by the captain of the Carpathia that it would be better if he took his ship and the passengers and crew of the Titanic that had survived to Halifax because it was the closest port and from that port, the survivors would go by train to their various destinations in the United States and Canada.

Recovery ships were sent out from Halifax to find bodies still floating on the surface of the water. Ice was placed in their holds so that bodies would be laid on the ice to keep them from putrefying. Iron bars were also brought on board so that they could be placed inside canvas bags with bodies that had already begun to decay. Then the canvas bags were dropped overboard and sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

The SS Minea had been chartered by the White Star Line to look for bodies. Body snatching the crew called it. They took with them 150 coffins, 20 tons of ice, 15 tons of scrap iron along with a clergyman and an undertaker. They picked up 11 bodies first day, but, on the following day, it was blowing a gale and it was also foggy so it was several days before the crew of the Minea could get a sight and work back to their original position. One of the crew said, “Bodies were all scattered, never came on (board) two together. We picked some up 150 miles east and north of the wreck.” The ship stayed out there 10 days and White Star Line wanted the ship to stay longer, but the ship had to return to Halifax, as the ship was short on provisions. The bodies were embalmed before the ship reached port. The crew of the ship had only recovered 17 bodies. They had to bury two of those at sea.

When the recovery boats brought back 209 bodies to Halifax, the bodies were placed in the Mayflower Curling Club’s building which was used as a temporary morgue due to it being cool inside the building. One of the bodies was a 19-month-old baby boy. No one knew who he was. He was buried with the 40 bodies that couldn’t be identified in a plot dedicated to the Titanic’s unknown victims. The sailors aboard the Mackay-Bennett, who were very upset by the discovery of the unknown boy's body, paid for a monument and he was buried on the 4th of May 1912 with a copper pendant placed in his coffin by recovery sailors that read “Our Babe.” Incidentally, on that same day, my mother was born. It wasn’t until 2007; ninety-five years later that DNA testing proved that the unknown baby boy was Sidney Leslie Goodwin. His body was the only member of his family that was on board the Titanic when it sank that was identified. Although the bodies of two other children, both older boys, were recovered, it was Sidney Goodwin who came to be a symbol of all the children lost in the disaster. He is buried in Fairview Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia, the final resting place for the bodies of the unknown victims of the Titanic’s sinking.

Fate plays a role in the sinking of the Titanic

Strangely enough, the sinking of the Titanic was prophesized in 1898 by a novelist by the name of Morgan Robertson. In 1898, Robertson titled his novel as Futility. His novel was about a similar ocean liner filled with the world’s richest people. In his book, he called the ship Titan and like the Titanic, it was the largest ship ever built and like the fate of the Titanic, it too struck an iceberg in the month of April during the evening and like the Titanic, it too sank in the North Atlantic. I am not even going to attempt to explain that most unusual coincidence, as I believe that it is beyond anyone’s ability to explain it.

To add to this strange coincidence, fourteen years later, Britain’s White Star Line presented to the world, the Titanic, a ship that was almost identical in scale which resulted in it being similar to Robertson’s fictional ship, the Titan. The Titanic was built in the Belfast shipyards and it measured 882.5 feet (269 meters) long, with nine decks (equivalent to an 11-storey building). The Titanic was so huge, it took three years to build it. Nowadays, it wouldn’t have taken that long to build it.

There was another time when someone prophesized that the ship would sink. A family that boarded the Titanic had previously been in Egypt and while there, one of the women called Alice was approached by a Cairo male fortuneteller. He read Alice’s hands and then told her; “You are in danger every time you are at sea. I see you in an open boat.” Alice was later one of the passengers in one of the Titanic’s lifeboats.

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you of another anecdote about the sinking of the Titanic. In 1943, Adolf Hitler, the German Nazi dictator instructed his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels to produce a film about the sinking of the Titanic. In the film, it became apparent that the British were being blamed for the sinking of the ship. When you consider the fact that the stupidity of some of those who caused the sinking of the Titanic were British subjects, the blame was correctly directed towards the British. In any case, Hitler was so adamant that such a film should be produced; he authorized a large sum of money to be available in making the film. In today’s money, that would have been as much as 180 million dollars. However, now comes the stupid part of the film. As the water is seen rushing through the doomed sinking ship, Captain Smith’s is speaking to his second in command and saying; (get ready for this) “See if you can find any German people on board. They will know how to save the ship.” Since God didn’t save the ship then how could German people (had they been on board) save the ship?

Let me tell you of two fateful developments that surely challenges one’s mind. The lives of millions of children born generations later in the Twentieth Century were affected because of the sinking of the Titanic and others in this century as well as well as those yet unborn who will also be affected. If it wasn’t for the mistakes some of these people made, the lives of these children could have been much worse. This must seem strange to you so I will explain.

You may recall that I said in a previous article that when I was 14 years of age, I lived with Captain Liversidge in 1947/48, the man who was originally asked to be the captain of the Titanic. The two of us had long talks together and he told me stories of his experiences at sea—first as a 14-year-old cabin boy when he sailed on a three-masted schooner that sailed from England to China and back and later as he worked his way of the hierarchy of leadership in sailing ships and in passenger liners until he became the captain of a large passenger liner in 1890 when he was only 24 years of age. As a 14-year-old, I was so excited at hearing his stories of his life at sea, that I decided that I too wanted to go to sea. Three years later, I joined the Canadian navy at the age of 17. Had I not joined the navy, I would have moved to Hollywood, California with my mother and younger brother and later become an American citizen.

Now you ask; how could my joining the Canadian navy have an effect on the lives of so many millions of children? It didn’t. However, had I moved to the United States, it is highly unlikely that during my lifetime there, I would have ended up addressing United Nations crime conferences around the world including the one in Caracas, Venezuela in 1980, where I gave a speech about the need for a bill of rights for young offenders. The American delegation upon hearing my speech brought in a resolution the following morning instructing the Secretariat of the United Nations to conduct meetings around the world about my proposal. Five years later after consultations around the world on my proposal, the UN general assembly made my proposal for the bill of rights become a reality. Those rights have affected the lives of millions of young offenders world-wide and will continue to do so for the young offenders yet to be born. It is called the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules on the Administration of Juvenile Justice.

Had the Titanic not sunk, Captain Liversidge would not have immediately resigned his commission after he heard that the Titanic had sunk and he would not have then bought a farm in British Columbia and I never would have met him and later joined the Canadian Navy instead of moving to Hollywood, California with my mother and brother.

It was fate that brought Captain Liversidge’s life and my own life together which resulted in the lives of so many children being affected because of fate’s intervention in my own life.

What is equally strange is that the eight men who were responsible for such a loss of life inadvertently brought about the existence of the UN bill of rights for young offenders. That is because if they had done their jobs right, 1,517 people wouldn't have died, Captain Liversidge wouldn’t have resigned his commission and bought a farm in Nelson and I never would have met him and later I would have invariably moved to Hollywood with my mother and brother. Because these eight men screwed up, history was changed and it resulted in me proposing to the UN a bill of rights for young offenders sixty-eight years later.

The second development is equally strange in the sense that it too made it possible for me to be the precursor of the UN bill of rights for young offenders. I will explain why. My maternal grandparents were missionaries in Nigeria for thirty years. In 1912, they decided to take a break and return to Canada for a year. When they arrived in England, they were offered passage on one of two ships by their religious organization that sponsored them in Nigeria. They could choose whatever one they wanted. One was a Belgium ship and the other was a British ship. The Belgium ship wasn’t as fancy as the British one. My grandmother told my grandfather that she didn’t mind going home on the Belgium ship. The British ship was the Titanic. Had they chosen to take that ship, they would have boarded the ship as Second Class passengers. As I said earlier in the first article I wrote about the sinking of the Titanic, there were 269 second class passengers on board the Titanic—152 men, 92 women and 25 children. As many as 135 men and 13 women in Second Class perished. All the children survived. Only 43% of the Second Class passengers survived. Of all the passengers on board the ship, 130 of them were Canadians in which 29 of them were in Second Class. If my grandparents had boarded that ship instead of boarding the Belgium ship, there would have been 31 Second Class Canadians on board.

As many as 82 Canadians died that fateful night. If my grandparents were on that ship when it went down, 84 Canadians would have died that night. Now this is the time when the story gets even more fascinating. My grandmother was pregnant at that time and guess who she was about to give birth to. It was my mother. She was born 20 days after the Titanic sank. Knowing my grandfather like I did, there is no doubt in my mind at all that he wouldn’t have climbed into the lifeboat if there were still women and children on the deck trying to get into them and like those few brave women in First Class who chose to remain on deck with their husbands, my grandmother would have never left the side of my grandfather on the deck of the Titanic as the ship was slowly sinking. She and my grandfather would have gone down with the ship embracing one another and of course, my mother would go down with them. If that had happened, you wouldn’t be reading this article, and for sure, the millions of children who are benefiting from the bill of rights I proposed to the UN in 1980 would not have come about—at least not when it did.

It was fate that has brought all of us together in one sense. That is why people who existed even before we were born and lived their lives and made their decisions the way they did has unquestionably had an effect on each of our lives. Even those eight men I wrote about who contributed to the deaths of so many people who sailed on the Titanic, has to some degree, no matter how minute, a tremendous effect on our lives. Not one of us can hope to escape fate. That’s also why fate is such a strange and mysterious phenomenon that embraces us all. It embraces us wherever we are or whoever we are. And for the most part, with some exceptions, its embrace is not unlike the embrace of a loving mother.

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