The RMS Titanic being pulled by tugboats in Ireland; new evidence suggests that a coal fire weakened the ship's hull

Irish Investigator Senan Molony Claims Titanic Fire Weakened Hull, Resulting In Fateful 1912 Sinking

A new documentary by U.K. broadcaster Channel 4, titled Titanic: The New Evidence, builds on previously known facts about the April 15, 1912, sinking of the RMS Titanic, along with recently discovered photographs, to conclude that a coal fire raging on the ship, before it had even left Southampton, resulted in its hull being weakened by as much as 75 percent, making it unable to withstand its collision with an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland, as reported by the Ottawa Citizen.

New images show a dark spot on the starboard side of the hull, which Irish investigator Senan Molony believes was a result of the fire burning out of control for days before the ship sunk. The Titanic fire was said to have begun burning in coal being stored for use in the ship’s boilers, something reported to have been a fairly common occurrence in steamliners of the period. The standard practice was for crews to deal with the situation by attempting to shovel the burning coal into boilers before coal surrounding it was able to ignite. It has been fairly well documented that this was the reason the Titanic was cruising through a field of icebergs at such a high speed, making it difficult to control the course of the ship.

Senan Molony’s new contribution to the understanding of the Titanic fire is his analysis of recently discovered photographs that came to light at an auction. The photos show a large dark patch, and perhaps even a bulge, on the starboard hull of the ship, the largest in the world when it set sail in April of 1912. The location of the dark spot is said to be close to where the ship struck the iceberg.

A 1912 newspaper boy holds a paper with the headline 'Titanic Disaster Great Loss Of Life.'
Newspaper boy Ned Parfett holding copies of the ‘Evening News’ proclaiming ‘Titanic Disaster Great Loss Of Life’ outside the offices of White Star Line on London’s Cockspur Street. [Image by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images]

Molony stated his belief that the Titanic may have been backed into port for passengers in Southampton to board in an attempt to hide the damage from them. In addition to weakening the hull and forcing the crew to operate the Titanic at an unsafe speed, the fire had the potential to cause “serious explosions,” as reported by the Independent. Robert Essenhigh, with Ohio State University, explained that the crew was not attempting “to set a speed record or impress other sailors,” as has been depicted in films dramatizing accounts of the sinking, Science Daily reported.

“Nobody has investigated these marks before or dwelled upon them. It totally changes the narrative,” Molony said, according to the Citizen. “We have metallurgy experts telling us that when you get that level of temperature against steel it makes it brittle and reduces its strength by up to 75 per cent.”

A painting depicting passengers of the Titanic being rescued from lifeboats by the crew of the Carpathia,
A 1912 painting, from ‘The Graphic,’ shows Titanic survivors being rescued from lifeboats by the crew of the Carpathia. [Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

At least one other ship in the vicinity of the Titanic was reported to have come to a dead stop, with icebergs too-closely situated to safely navigate. That the crew of the Titanic was reported to have been aware of this, on top of the fact that the vessel was designed for comfort instead of speed, is said to lend credence to the notion that the only reason the Titanic was traveling so fast was because crews were attempting to cram as much burning coal into boilers, as quickly as possible, to avoid an explosion.

American banker John Pierpont Morgan owned the White Star Line, which was the operator of the Titanic at the time of its sinking. Morgan was said to have known about the fire and “quietly cancelled” his ticket on the maiden voyage, which was described as a “gamble.”

“Morgan thought it was necessary, in order to justify his gamble, that they should reach New York and unload all the passengers before the inevitable explosions occurred,” Titanic investigator Ray Boston was quoted as saying in 2008.

Senan Molony described the truth behind the sinking of the Titanic as “one of ice and fire.”

[Featured Image by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images]

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