THE world’s attention focused over the past few days on the lives of five people in a submersible deep under the ocean seeking to visit the wreck of the Titanic.
The story did not have a happy ending. Yesterday, rescuers admitted that all five are dead – and likely the end came not with an agonising wait for rescue as air ran out, but in an instant, with the crushing depths bringing an implosion that likely killed all on board in less than a second.
Questions have already been raised about the safety of the vessel – and not just in hindsight, but with members of the undersea exploration community having raised concerns before the incident.
Movie director James Cameron – who directed the film Titanic and who has himself spent many hours exploring the wreck of the vessel – compared the tragedy to that of the famous ship itself, noting the many warnings that were ignored by OceanGate, the company who operated the vessel. He said it was similar to the captain of the Titanic ignoring the news that an ice pack was ahead and proceeding at full speed on a moonless night toward disaster.
Many of these questions are for the international community at large, but we have a few questions of particular relevance to The Bahamas – for it was here that some of the testing was done, and it was here that OceanGate offered trips too. Those came at a high price – many thousands of dollars – but OceanGate was aiming at the rich adventurer. Those on board the imploded vessel were billionaires, not paupers.
Quite what safety assurances were given for those trips in our waters is unclear. What licences were approved remains unresolved. If there has indeed been negligence by the company, was it just luck that stopped it being in our waters?
Then there are the partnerships and link-ups the company announced. Its website touts a partnership with the University of The Bahamas that the university, in today’s Tribune, says never really materialised. In yesterday’s Tribune, the dean quoted on the company’s website pointed reporters not to the current head of the university, nor to the one just departed but to the one before that, Dr Rodney Smith.
Similarly, a partnership was touted by the company with the Island School in Cape Eleuthera, but when the school was contacted they said there was a conversation but nothing ever went further.
How many of these supposed partnerships take place that never really go anywhere – and what was the purpose of seeking them in the first place? Did having a partnership with the university touted on its website lend the company an air of authenticity when courting customers? Or was it simply a photo opportunity that no one ever followed up?
We do not ask this just for this particular case – over the years there are constant photographs of hands being shaken, pledges being made, memoranda being signed. Remember the much-vaunted Dubai trip the government took? What tangible benefits came of that? Remember the pledge conference after Hurricane Dorian where actual donations were thin on the ground but big numbers were touted because of proposed loans that never amounted to anything?
To what extent do such things really benefit the Bahamian people? Or are they just tick boxes on the to-do list of the would-be investor who doesn’t need to follow through?
In the end, here we are left with a disaster that many say was avoidable, followed by an intense search the likes of which is not done when the vessel is full of migrants rather than billionaires.
Our own part in proceedings may be minor, but there for the grace of God it might have been our nation’s waters where the tragedy took place. Had we done all we could to avoid it? Are we doing all we can to ensure other partnerships accurately reflect the relationships between companies and our national entities?
We pay our respects to the lives that have been lost. There will, no doubt, be a full accounting of the decisions that were made, the advice that was ignored. A full accounting of our own involvement with this company would not go amiss.