By Patrick Whittle
The company that owned a submersible that imploded on its way to explore the wreck of the Titanic, killing all five onboard, said Thursday it has suspended operations.
OceanGate announced the action in a brief statement posted atop its website. Contacted for additional information, a spokesperson declined to comment further. Among those killed in the implosion was Stockton Rush, the submersible’s pilot and chief executive officer of the company.
Investigators believe the Titan imploded as it made its descent into deep North Atlantic waters on June 18. The Coast Guard said last week that human remains have likely been recovered from the wreckage of the submersible and are being examined by medical officials in the U.S.
Remotely operated vehicles, known as ROVs, were used to retrieve the debris from the ocean floor about 12,500 feet (3,810 meters) underwater and a ship later brought pieces of the wreckage to a port in Canada to be examined. The debris was found roughly 1,600 feet away (488 meters) from the Titanic.
The U.S. Coast Guard has convened a Marine Board of Investigation, its highest level of investigation, into the implosion, and plans to hold a public hearing in the future. The Coast Guard did not respond to an emailed request for comment on Thursday.
In its statement Thursday, OceanGate said it “has suspended all exploration and commercial operations,” but didn't elaborate. The site still contained a photo of the wreck of the Titanic along with the tagline “explore the world's most famous shipwreck,” but it wasn't possible to book a trip and some of the site's other features were broken.
A spokesperson for OceanGate, Andrew Von Kerens said later Thursday that the company wasn’t releasing any additional information.
OceanGate is based in Everett, Washington, and OceanGate Expeditions, a related company that led the Titan’s dives to the Titanic, is registered in the Bahamas.
The multiday search and eventual recovery of debris from the 22-foot (6.7-meter) vessel captured attention around the world.
Legal experts have said they expect family members of those killed to file lawsuits not only against OceanGate, but also against the Titan's maker and companies that provided parts. But if OceanGate totally shuts down, that certainly reduces their options, said Richard Daynard, a distinguished professor at Northeastern University School of Law.
“There's essentially no chance of recovering damages" from the company if it's no longer operating, he said.
Additionally, the passengers were most likely asked to sign liability waivers. One of the waivers, signed by a person who planned to go on an OceanGate expedition, stated that passengers on the Titan could experience physical injury, disability, emotional trauma and death.
Also killed in the implosion were two members of a prominent Pakistani family, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood; British adventurer Hamish Harding; and Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet. The company charged passengers $250,000 each to participate in the voyage.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is conducting a safety investigation into the Titan’s Canadian-flagged mother ship, the Polar Prince. Officials with the safety board did not respond to emailed requests for comment on Thursday.