In April 1912, a magnificent 52,000-ton liner sank to the bottom of the Atlantic. The greatest disaster of the time was also a critical lesson: for every accident, builders and nations try to enhance the safety of vessels, crews and passengers. Icebergs aren’t the only thing that can place a ship in jeopardy, but there is always the chance to save lives.
HMS Rose broke up in Portsmouth Harbor because of shoddy labor. The Russian sub Kursk exploded because of torpedo propellant. Other mishaps, like the liner Costa Concordia running aground, can be blamed on human error. Public reaction to these incidents have pushed for higher standards. Today, cruise ships have enough life jackets and life boats for every man, woman and child. Crews undergo extensive training courses. Survival gear includes dye markers, radios, strobe lights and shark repellent. Submersible pumps and watertight hulls are stronger. And satellite navigation and communication, essential for ocean transit and safety, are in a continuous state of development.
International collaboration is the best way to improve safety at sea. The U.N.’s International Maritime Organization was formed in the spirit of the common good. According to the IMO web site, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (the SOLAS Convention) was penned two years after HMS Titanic and remains in effect today. Safety should always be in the foreground of seagoing commerce, which functions today at the international level.