Titanic disaster brings stability, new laws at sea - WFXG FOX 54 - News Now

Titanic 100 years later: Out of tragedy comes stability at sea

The RMS Titanic. (Source: Wikimedia Commons) The RMS Titanic. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

(RNN) - One hundred years ago today, the world's largest luxury ship - the RMS Titanic - set off on its maiden voyage and sank into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. In its wake came changes to the ways cruise ships handle safety and security - with many of those laws still exercised today.

The Titanic set off from Southampton, England on April 10, 1912. After brief stops in Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown (now Cork), Ireland, it continued to its final destination of New York City – but it hit an iceberg in the north Atlantic and sank about three hours later on April 15, 1912.

More than two-thirds of the people aboard the ship died. The rest were picked up and taken to New York by the RMS Carpathia, a nearby ship that received the Titanic's radio distress signals.

The news of the demise of the "unsinkable" Titanic shocked the world and started several investigations in both Britain and the U.S. into what caused the accident.

According to the Encyclopedia Titanica, Sen. William Alden Smith, R-MI, and the committee working on the inquiry into the Titanic disaster began subpoenaing many survivors to testify about what happened before they even arrived in New York. In the end, both the American and British inquiries sought to update nautical safety regulations.

One of the main things the inquiries looked into was current lifeboat laws. Even though the Titanic's lifeboats could only carry a maximum of 1,178 people out of the more than 2,200 aboard, it met the lifeboat laws at the time.

The American inquiry recommended that the lifeboat laws be changed so that all ships would be required to have enough lifeboats to carry everyone on board.

It also called for crew members to be familiar with how to properly handle the lifeboats and required lifeboat drills at least twice a month. These recommendations would become law and accepted internationally under the 1914 maritime safety treaty called the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

SOLAS also established funding for the International Ice Patrol. According to the International Ice Patrol's page on the U.S. Coast Guard's website, "The mission of the International Ice Patrol is to monitor the iceberg danger near the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and provide the iceberg limit to the maritime community … Since 1913, the United States Coast Guard has been tasked with the management and operation of the patrol."

The treaty also recognized red rockets as the universal sign of distress, and indicated that rockets should only be fired in times of distress.

While the Titanic sank, it fired off numerous white rockets. The SS Californian, which was much closer to the Titanic than the Carpathia, misinterpreted those rockets as identification signals, which were common for ships to perform at a time when wireless radio was in its infancy.

The sinking of the Titanic also helped bring about regulation to wireless operations.

Congress passed the Radio Act of 1912, which requires all wireless operators to be licensed and only use certain bandwidths – the rest of which were reserved for the U.S. Navy.

Congress saw the need for radio regulation after there was mass confusion on the radio waves during the disaster. Nearby ships and radio operators on the East Coast clogged the radio waves, sending mixed messages of the Titanic's fate.

Some messages said the cruise ship was being towed to Halifax, Canada by an oil tanker, and many newspapers reported no lives were lost. The Carpathia's wireless operators also at one point started ignoring government queries about what happened to spend his time sending out personal messages of survivors.

All of these laws are still enforced today. SOLAS has been revised several times in 1960s, '70s and '80s to accommodate for advances in technology, like nuclear submarines.

Some of the lifeboat laws have been called into question following the capsizing of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy in January 2012. Current maritime laws state that cruise ships must hold lifeboat drills within the first 24 hours of a voyage. However, the Costa Concordia capsized within hours after leaving the port, and a drill had not yet been held.

Since the lifeboats were on the sides of the ship and the cruise ship listed to one side, many of the lifeboats could not be accessed.

A civil and environmental engineer professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering wrote in the Huffington Post of a potential solution: "A ship-based real time system transmitting measurements of sea surface temperature, salinity and weather information costs less than US $50,000 per installation.

"Yet, even if deployed in 10 percent of the ships industry wide, it can lead to dramatic improvements in the accuracy of sea-state forecasts and substantially improve safety."

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