Great Article on the Titanic From a Maritime Perspective

Titanic brand proves unsinkable as 100-year anniversary looms

David Sapsted
Apr 9, 2012

LONDON // It has become the most celebrated maritime disaster of all time and, on April 14 and 15, events to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic will take place across two continents.

The Titanic’s hull photographed while under construction in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in May, 1911. The ship set sail on its first passenger voyage less than a year later on April 10, 1912. AP / Library of Congress
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There has already been the premiere of the 3D version of James Cameron’s Titanic movie and the opening of a £90 million (Dh525m) museum in the Belfast shipyard when the “unsinkable” liner was built.

And there have been the auctions of Titanic-related memorabilia and the sale of everything from T-shirts and tea bags, to Titanic Irish whiskey and even Titanic crisps. TV channels in Britain and the US are being crammed with documentaries and dramas, on top of the video games, CDs, DVDs.

There are also graveyard tours in New York and Nova Scotia, a musical in Ireland, and exhibitions in cities on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yet a few voices have been raised over concerns that the ones being forgotten in all the razzamatazz and hype are the approximately 1,500 souls (nobody is sure of the exact total: estimates range from 1,495 to 1,528) who suffered horrible deaths on April 15, 1912, less than three hours after the ship struck an iceberg just before midnight the previous day.

“There’s been little sense of the victims other than as extras in an epic adventure – certainly, no sign of rage against the incompetence, injustice and contempt for the poor which characterised the Titanic experience,” the Belfast Telegraph commented last week.

Such concerns are scarcely new. Even in 1912, novelist Joseph Conrad was so appalled by the sensationalist press coverage that he wrote: “A great babble of news and eager comment has arisen around this catastrophe, though it seems to me that a less strident note would have been more becoming in the presence of so many victims left struggling on the sea, of lives miserably thrown away for nothing, or worse than nothing: for false standards of achievement, to satisfy a vulgar demand of a few monied people for a banal hotel luxury.”

Yet the public fixation with Titanic remains. John Wilson Foster, the author of three non-fiction books on the vessel and a professor at Queen’s University, Belfast, interprets the enduring fascination with the sinking as a metaphor for modern life.

“We choose to see in the ship and the human tragedy of its sinking, meanings that derive from our sense of an ending – our sense that the ship symbolises our culture in crisis,” he said.

James Delgado, director of maritime heritage at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, believes it is the timeless quality of the tale of Titanic’s one and only voyage that has produced such an enduring fascination.

“The story is ageless, like all great stories,” he said. “The elements in this case of triumph, tragedy, and hubris, of bravery and cowardice, all wrapped up in one brief moment. That speaks to people.”

Both Mr Delgado and Mr Cameron attribute the finding of the wreck in 1985, 3,780 metres below the surface of the North Atlantic, as one of the main reasons for the ship being brought back to the public’s attention.

Others attribute the 1955 book A Night to Remember and film of the same name three years later – a much grittier version of events than Mr Cameron’s 1997 multiple Oscar-winning movie – for rekindling public interest.

In truth, though, the Titanic story has never gone away. Writing in 1940, George Orwell commented: “I must admit that nothing in the whole war [First World War] moved me so deeply as the loss of Titanic had done a few years earlier.

“This comparatively petty disaster shocked the whole world, and the shock has not quite died away even yet.”

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