Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Was it really Titanic that sank?

Titanic. Port bow 3/4 profile afloat immediately after launch. Photograph © National Museums Northern Ireland. Collection Harland & Wolff, Ulster Folk & Transport Museum
Launch of the Titanic, published in the Belfast Telegraph 31/5/1911
Titanic at fitting-out wharf with three out of four funnels fitted. Photograph © National Museums Northern Ireland. Collection Ulster Folk & Transport Museum

An event like the Titanic disaster will always attract conspiracy theories but can we really believe that the ship that struck the iceberg on that fateful night wasn't, in fact, the Titanic at all?

In Robin Gardiner's detailed book, Titanic: The Ship that Never Sank?, he claims that the loss of the ship was the result of an insurance claim that went badly wrong.

Imagine, if you will, that the Titanic's near identical sister ship The Olympic was severely damaged in a collision while sailing from Southampton. The cruiser HMS Hawke smashed into the side of the Olympic and an inquiry later exonerated the Hawke of all blame.

This set Gardiner’s theory in motion. White Star Line was allegedly under-insured and the cost of fixing the damaged Olympic which had a broken keel among other items that needed repairing, was going to be high.

As the White Star's flagship would also be out of action during repairs, the Titanic's completion date would have to be delayed. All this would have amounted to a serious financial hit for the company. The damage was so severe that the relevant insurance would fail to recover the costs, as both parties were instructed to pay for damages.

Set to make an, er, titanic loss of some $750,000, White Star supposedly switched the liners around and had the Olympic, disguised as the Titanic, deliberately sunk in order to claim the insurance.

Gardiner calls in all sorts of interesting facts to prove his case, including the different lengths of the sea trials of the two great ships. The Olympic’s trials in 1910 took two days, with several high speed runs, but the Titanic’s trail lasted a single day because, according to Mr Gardiner the patched-up hull could not take the stress of long periods of high speed. Also, Gardiner controversially suggests the Titanic did not strike an iceberg at all but an IMM rescue ship that was drifting with its lights out.

The ice on the Titanic decks he explains as coming from the rigging of this ship. Yes, it seems a hideously complicated scheme, fraught with danger and opportunities to be found out. For those of us who regard conspiracies as always less likely than the foul-up theory of history, Mr Gardiner, a plasterer by trade, lays it on a bit thick.

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