OceanGate announced it is suspending all exploration and commercial operations after the death of the Titanic Five last month – including the company’s CEO.
‘OceanGate has suspended all exploration and commercial operations,’ the top of the company’s official website stated.
The notice is listed in small red font on the website’s homepage. It’s unclear when OceanGate added the suspension notice or what would happen to people who paid up to $250,000 for future expeditions.
The decision comes weeks after five people died – tourists Hamish Harding, 58, Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his son Sulaiman Dawood, 19, French Navy pilot Paul-Henry (PH) Nargeolet and OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush – on a sub that likely imploded while it descended to the Titanic wreckage.
The disaster sparked questions about OceanGate’s past safety record, concerns with previous practices and the future of tourism at the famed 1912 wreck.
The five men onboard all died after the Titan sub, pictured here, imploded on its expedition
French Navy veteran PH Nargeolet (left) was on the sub along with Stockton Rush (right), CEO of the OceanGate Expedition
Five people had been on board, including British billionaire adventurer Hamish Harding (left) and Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman, who was just 19
Just last week, OceanGate’s website still included pages advertising trips to the Titanic – weeks after five people were killed on one of the journeys.
A page titled ‘Titan Expedition – Explore the Titanic’ was still available online, which offered a chance to dive to the shipwreck in the company’s submersible.
‘Intrepid travelers will sail from the Atlantic coast of Canada for an 8-day expedition to dive on the iconic wreck that lies 380 miles offshore and 3,800 meters below the surface,’ the page states.
Titan suffered a ‘catastrophic implosion’ during a voyage to the wreckage of the Titanic, 12,500ft beneath the Atlantic’s surface.
Rush – a self-professed ‘innovator’ who sought to push the boundaries on passenger diving – was one of five who died in what proved to be the Titan’s final voyage after its pressure chamber imploded near where the Titanic rests.
A banner on the OceanGate website reads the company has suspended commercial operations
OceanGate’s website just last week still includes pages advertising trips to the Titanic – 11 days after five people, including the company CEO, were killed on one of the journeys
The page also listed renowned French explorer PH Nargeolet, who perished on board the Titan, as an expert ‘who may join you on [the] expedition’
Debris from the OceanGate sub is recovered after the implosion at the Titanic wreck site
Rush reportedly believed going to the depths of the Atlantic in the Titan was ‘safer than crossing the street’, despite having been warned by dozens of experts in 2018 that his company’s ‘experimental’ approaches could be ‘catastrophic.’
The safety of the submersible and OceanGate’s dismissal of several warnings has drawn considerable criticism after the Titan went missing during a June 18 dive to the seafloor.
The CEO – who considered himself to be more of a scientist than a salesman despite much of his efforts being focused on marketing the sub trips – was begged in 2019 to suspend operations after a submersible expert heard cracking sounds during one of the Titan’s dives in the Bahamas.
On June 18, an OceanGate sub was launched around 8am in the Atlantic Ocean 400 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, at the site of the Titanic shipwreck.
The five passengers started to descend as Rush piloted the vessel.
At 9:45am – an hour and 45 minutes into the dive – it lost contact with its mothership, the Polar Prince.
OceanGate Expeditions took eight hours to report the missing sub to the US Coast Guard after it lost contact.
That led to a massive international response to rescue the five passengers. Ships from across the globe started to make the trek to help search for the missing sub while the hours and estimated oxygen ticked down.
Days later, it was announced the five people aboard the sub were believed to have been killed in a likely implosion.
It was also revealed that a US Navy monitoring system picked up a possible sound of the implosion in the descent- but search efforts continued.
After announcing the death of the five passengers, it was later revealed that debris form the imploded sub was found near the site of the Titanic.
OceanGate, based in Washington, shuttered its door amid the search and after the disaster and questions flew about the future of deep-sea tourism at the site.
A door with signage removed at OceanGate’s headquarters at the Port of Everett on June 20
Canadian police are considering whether ‘criminal, federal, or provincial laws’ were broken in the lead up to the Titan submersible disaster.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are examining ‘the circumstances that led to the deaths’ of the five crew on board the sub and decide ‘whether or not a full investigation is warranted’.
Their investigation started at the end of June, a day after it emerged human remains were found during the recovery mission and segments of the vessel were brought ashore.
Superintendent Kent Osmond, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said a team of investigators has been established with the ‘sole purpose’ of determining whether a criminal investigation would be warranted.
‘Such an investigation will proceed only if our examination of the circumstances indicate criminal, federal or provincial laws may possibly have been broken,’ he said.
‘Following the US Coast Guard’s announcement earlier this week that debris from the submersible was located and all five on board were presumed dead, we will now look at the circumstances that led to those deaths.
‘Our investigators are engaged and active in this matter as of this morning. Once a determination has been made as to whether or not a full investigation will be launched, we will provide an update at that time.’
Families of the Titan submersible victims could sue its operator OceanGate, the maker of the vessel and companies that provided parts, legal experts have said.
Lawyers said relatives could seek damages from any outside parties involved in the Titan’s construction if they were found to be negligent and a cause of the implosion.
Experts say wrongful death and negligence lawsuits could be filed by families of the victims. The five passengers who died are thought to have been asked to sign liability waivers before they boarded the vessel.
The waiver said that passengers could experience physical injury, disability, emotional trauma and death while on board the Titan.
That waiver could play a big role in legal action as families consider their options, but a major complicating factor is that the disaster happened in international waters.
Legal experts say the implosion occurred ‘basically in a regulatory no man’s land’ and jurisdiction will be hard to establish both for the families and the investigations.
Any disputes relating to the waivers would likely be governed by the laws of the Bahamas, where OceanGate is registered – but families could also try to declare the waiver to be invalid in the US and bring a lawsuit there, or in their home countries.
US legal expert Dr. Nick Oberheiden, of Federal-lawyer.com, said families could win more than $100million if they sue OceanGate – and could choose to pursue it as a group claim, which might improve their chances of winning by sharing resources.
A statement from OceanGate is posted at the entrance of the firm’s base at the Port of Everett
A view of OceanGate equipment within the boatyard at the Port of Everett complex on June 22
A CBS reporter who made the trip with OceanGate Expeditions in July 2022 reported that the waiver he signed mentioned the possibility of death three times on the first page alone.
Legal experts said what the investigation into the disaster uncovers will determine much about any legal case from families, including what caused the vessel to implode.
Liability waivers – sometimes referred to as release forms – are typical before doing recreational activities that carry some measure of risk, such as sky diving or scuba diving.
By signing the document, passengers generally accept the risk and dangers related to the activity and if they are injured, absolve the company’s owner of liability.
Matthew Shaffer, a trial lawyer with the maritime personal injury law firm Schechter, Shaffer and Harris, said the forms are commonplace before doing any kind of ‘ultra-hazardous recreational activity.’
‘A good release will cover any and all potential harm and you are going to spell it out in simple language as possible,’ he said.
‘You can get killed. You can get hurt. You can get maimed and you are not going to have any recourse. You’re releasing us of any liability for anything bad that is going to happen to you as a result of you engaging in this activity.’
The legality of these documents depends on the state where they are signed, according to legal experts.
In the US, signed waivers have been upheld in cases involving scuba divers in Florida and skiers in Colorado.
A court weighs the document against other factors, including whether the person signing it understood the form and the risks they were taking, as well as how unusual and dangerous the activity.
Shaffer said a court will also consider whether an owner or operator withheld information from the passenger, or knowingly exposed the passenger to ‘probable harm.’ Another question is whether there was ‘gross negligence involved.’
Regardless of whether or not there was a waiver, Shaffer and others have said they expect families of those who died on the submersible to sue not only OceanGate, but also the maker of the vessel and companies that provided parts.
‘The waiver is certainly going to be a significant factor stemming from this disaster and it depends a lot on the court and the facts that come out,’ he said.
But waivers are not always ironclad, and it is not uncommon for judges to reject them if there is evidence of gross negligence or hazards that were not fully disclosed.
‘If there were aspects of the design or construction of this vessel that were kept from the passengers or it was knowingly operated despite information that it was not suitable for this dive, that would absolutely go against the validity of the waiver,’ Shaffer said.
A view of a boat with OceanGate branding within the boatyard at the Port of Everett on June 22
A file photo of people on board the Titan submersible, operated by OceanGate Expeditions
A Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules plane flies over L’Atalante during the search last Wednesday
OceanGate could argue it was not grossly negligent and that the waivers apply because they fully described the dangers inherent in plumbing the deepest reaches of the ocean in a submersible the size of a minivan.
The degree of any potential negligence and how that might impact the applicability of the waivers will depend on the causes of the disaster, which are still under investigation.
‘There are so many different examples of what families might still have claims for despite the waivers, but until we know the cause we can’t determine whether the waivers apply,’ said personal injury lawyer Joseph Low of California.
OceanGate is a small company based in Everett, Washington, and it is unclear whether it has the assets to pay significant damages, were any to be awarded.
Potential plaintiffs could cite allegations of safety lapses at OceanGate made by a former employee in a 2018 lawsuit against the company in Washington federal court.
The employee, David Lochridge, said he raised ‘serious safety concerns’ but was ignored. That case was settled on undisclosed terms, court records show.
A group of industry leaders also wrote to OceanGate in 2018 expressing grave concerns about the vessel’s safety and the company’s decision not to certify the Titan through third parties such as the American Bureau of Shipping, a leading classifier of submersibles.
A complicating factor in the recent disaster is that the disaster happened in international waters.
According to the waiver the Associated Press reviewed, any disputes would be governed by the laws of the Bahamas, where OceanGate Expeditions Ltd is registered.
‘If the law of the Bahamas is not favorable to the families, then I predict they will bring a lawsuit in the United States or their home countries,’ said Kenneth Abraham, the Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law, who is aware of the waiver’s terms.
Declaring the waiver to be invalid in the US could then become part of the legal argument, he said.
At least 46 people successfully travelled on OceanGate’s submersible to the Titanic wreck site in 2021 and 2022, according to letters the company filed with a US District Court in Norfolk, Virginia, that oversees matters involving the Titanic shipwreck.