OceanGate CEO called certifying agencies for submersibles ‘over-the-top in their rules and regulations’

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Stockton Rush, the OceanGate founder and CEO who was piloting the Titan submersible when it suffered a catastrophic implosion this week, commented on certification programs for vessels like his last year.

The Titan had a carbon fiber design that’s been criticized by various experts, including filmmaker and ocean explorer James Cameron, who called it “completely inappropriate” and “a horrible idea.”

On Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard announced that the Titan had imploded on its journey to see the Titanic shipwreck, with all five passengers presumed lost.

During a GeekWire summit talk last October, Rush said:

“There are certifying or semi-certifying agencies…these programs are over-the-top in their rules and regulations, but they had nothing with carbon fiber. So we had to go out and work on that. And one of the things I learned is, you know, when you’re outside the box, it’s really hard to tell how far outside the box really are. And we were pretty far out there.”

The Titan was never certified, despite Rush being repeatedly urged to get it done by at least one expert. Rob McCallum, who runs an ocean expedition company, shared emails with the BBC that show him communicating with Rush on the issue. 

“I think you are potentially placing yourself and your clients in a dangerous dynamic,” McCallum wrote. “In your race to Titanic you are mirroring that famous catch cry: ‘She is unsinkable.’”

Rush responded he was “tired of industry players who try to use a safety argument to stop innovation,” and McCallum said the exchange ended after threats of legal action from OceanGate’s lawyers. 

Elsewhere in that exchange, McCallum wrote: “Until a sub is classed, tested and proven it should not be used for commercial deep dive operations…I implore you to take every care in your testing and sea trials and to be very, very conservative. As much as I appreciate entrepreneurship and innovation, you are potentially putting an entire industry at risk.”

Rush replied, “I am well qualified to understand the risks and issues associated with subsea exploration in a new vehicle.” 

Speaking from the interior of an OceanGate submersible in a 2021 interview with Spanish YouTuber alanxelmundo, Rush said: “I have broken some rules to make this…The carbon fiber and titanium—there is a rule that you don’t do that. Well, I did.”

Speaking to the BBC, McCallum said, “If you steer away from sound engineering principles, which are all based on hard-won experience, there is a price to pay, and it’s a terrible price. So it should never be allowed to happen again. It shouldn’t have been allowed to happen this time.”

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