Give Me Revenue or Give Me Death: the Neoliberal Rubric that Fostered the Titan Sub Disaster

A computer-generated rendering of the Titan. Photograph Source: Madelgarius – CC BY-SA 4.0

In the 2023 Mount Everest climbing season, which ended in May, six hundred people trekked over 29,000 feet, in Nepal’s Himalayan sky, towards the most preeminent vista above sea level. Seventeen of those valiant souls did not make the trip back down alive—eleven more than last year’s six fatalities.

OceanGate, a private American company providing deep sea expeditions for tourism and research, made twenty-one dives in two years. Seven of those excursions ventured 12,500 feet to that decaying steel mausoleum, infamously known as the RMS Titanic—resulting in five fatalities, all of which occurred June 18, according to the US Navy, which detected an implosion last weekend after the Titan lost contact with its mother ship.

Adventurously speaking, the OceanGate expeditions to the Titanic wreck site are somewhat similar to climbing Mount Everest, albeit in the opposite direction. But there is one similitude, equally responsible for the tragic results of both undertakings, yet never seems to publicly assume a fair share of the blame: The dogged, perverse, maniacal pursuit of revenue.

Summiting Mount Everest will set thrill seekers back anywhere from $20,000 to $115,000 depending on which side (south or north) you attempt the climb, and the personal requirements or desires of each individual. As debilitating as those prices would be for the average bank account, they pale in comparison to the $250,000 price tag attached to an OceanGate expedition to the Titanic.

Co-founder and CEO of OceanGate, Richard Stockton Rush III (God rest his soul) was one of the five victims of the Titan submersible disaster. Rush, who was once a venture capitalist for Peregrine Partners, was compelled to establish OceanGate in 2009, according to the company’s Wikipedia Page, after “research led him to believe that he had discovered an unmet business opportunity to expand the private market of ocean exploration.”

Rush then commissioned a marketing study that substantiated his research, but he and co-founder Guillermo Sohnlein still had to find a way around the Passenger Vessel Safety Act of 1993, a law that Rush claimed, “Needlessly prioritized passenger safety over commercial innovation.”

The innovation OceanGate injudiciously extolled on their website, was the titanium and filament wound carbon fiber used to construct the vessel. Research tells me that the material has performed well for aerospace engineering, but has not been thoroughly tested in deep-sea situations.

In a June 20th New York Times piece titled: OceanGate Was Warned of Potential for Catastrophic Problems With Titanic Mission, Bart Kemper, principal engineer with Kemper Engineering Services in Louisiana, stated, “that OceanGate had avoided to abide by certain U.S. regulations by deploying the vessel (Titan) in international waters, where Coast Guard rules did not apply.”

This notion was confirmed in the same piece by associate professor of maritime history at Campbell University in North Carolina, Salvatore Mercogliano, who asserted, “The Passenger Vessel Safety Act of 1993, which regulates submersibles that carry passengers and requires that they be registered with the Coast Guard, does not apply to Titan because it does not fly an American flag or operate in American waters.”

OceanGate’s heedless insatiable quest for profit is not limited to the private side of society—in my opinion, City, State and Government officials, for enterprising reasons, are making irresponsible, greedy decisions as well.

In May of 2013 New York City launched its Citi Bike enterprise. On the surface, the idea of renting bikes to health-conscious New Yorkers can appear rather innocent, until you do a little research and run into articles like this April 11, Daily News piece titled: NYC bicyclists facing most lethal year ever with 11 deaths so far in 2023.

The piece affirms, “Of the 11 cyclists killed so far this year, seven were riding electric bikes while four were riding traditional bicycles.” Tragically, 16-year-old Jaydan McLaurin was one of the victims killed by a hit-and-run SUV driver, in Astoria Queens, while riding an electric Citi Bike. (Rest in peace – and may God comfort his family)…

I’ve been living and driving in New York all my life, so it doesn’t surprise me that over 200 people die every year from traffic accidents. What does surprise me, however, is when, while driving in early morning rush hour traffic, I see a father or a mother, peddling by with a toddler or a first grader strapped to the back of a bike.

I remember twenty-two years ago when my daughter was born, bolting her in a car seat and driving home from the hospital, doing a nervous five miles per hour. Most parents I know have expressed a similar experience. I can’t imagine the amount of caution I would have to cast into the ever-fluctuating east coast wind, in order to strap my daughter on the back of a bike, five years after she got here, so we could slalom through the frenetic New York City traffic.

In 2019, Citi Bike’s annual membership accounted for $24.7 million of the $46.7 million it grossed. As problematic as NYC can be at times, (especially with certain social issues) it does exhibit a relatively healthy concern for the safety and wellbeing of its 8.4 million residents. But, as with most enterprising entities and conglomerates, that concern slips into an indifferent agenda when the opportunity to turn an entrepreneurial profit appears.

The term euthanasia (the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable painful disease or in an irreversible coma) was popularized in this country by the late Dr. Jack Kevorkian, whose famous quote is, “Dying is not a crime.”

Notwithstanding the ten jurisdictions in the U.S. where assisted suicide has become a woeful final option, euthanasia is illegal in America. But when the opportunity to turn a profit emerges, this country (and others) have consistently and hypocritically shown that they are not averse to their citizens risking and sacrificing their lives, for convenience, recreation and death-defying adventurers (capital D).

Rush and Sohnlein found a crafty way to cut costs and proceed with their business venture despite a fardel of warnings from submersible engineers. It is easy to deduce that a drunken thirst to summit the pompous apex of capitalism fueled their reckless approach. The same reckless approach that ironically inspired a veteran sea captain to ignore multiple iceberg warnings, on the frigid night of April 14, 1912, in an enterprising attempt to impress and entice future passengers, by crossing the Atlantic in record breaking time.

Most of my friends and I will not be here after another 111 years, but one can only hope, for the sake of humanity reaching our full potential, it will not take that long to conclude that capitalism brings out the worst in humankind. The current position of Einstein’s Doomsday Clock does not forecast, or suggest, that another 111 years is available.