A new documentary claims that the sinking of the RMS Titanic nearly 105 years ago may not have been due primarily to the ship colliding at high speed with an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland but to a massive coal fire that broke out in a coal bunker three weeks before it set off on the fateful voyage from Southampton in England to New York.
In a new documentary, Titanic: The New Evidence, which was broadcast on Britain’s Channel 4 on New Year’s Day, Senan Molony, editor at the Irish Daily Mail, who has spent more than three decades researching the Titanic, claimed that a coal fire had raged on the ship for weeks before it left the Belfast shipyard. The fire, which started in a coal bunker next to a boiler room, damaged and severely weakened a section of the ship’s hull before it rammed into an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland, according to the Independent.
The weakening of the Titanic’s hull, caused by the fire that raged for weeks at temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees Celsius, explains why it sustained severe damage when it hit the iceberg just before midnight on April 14, 1912.
“We have metallurgy experts telling us that when you get that level of temperature (1,000 degrees Celsius) against steel it makes it brittle, and reduces its strength by up to 75 per cent,” Molony said.
The impact caused a 300-foot-long rip along the already-weakened hull. The deep punctures and gashes that resulted exposed the Titanic’s compartments, causing flooding. The flooding eventually caused the 880-foot-long and 100-foot-tall ship, hailed at the time as unsinkable, to go down.
“We are looking at the exact area where the iceberg struck, and we appear to have a weakness or damage to the hull in that specific place, before she even left Belfast,” Molony said, according to the Telegraph. “The official Titanic inquiry branded it as an act of God, but this isn’t a simple story of colliding with an iceberg and sinking.”
“It’s a perfect storm of extraordinary factors coming together: fire, ice and criminal negligence,” Molony continued. “Nobody has investigated these marks before. It totally changes the narrative.”
“The fire was known about, but it was played down. She should never have been put to sea.”
There were about 2,224 passengers and crew on board the Titanic at the time it hit an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic Sea. Titanic went down with the loss of more than 1,500 lives — men, women, and children.
Molony’s new evidence comes from a previously unpublished collection of photographs taken by a senior engineer at Harland and Wolff, the Belfast company that built the Titanic. The photographs, found in the attic of a house in Wiltshire, southwest England, were obtained by one of Molony’s colleagues from a descendant of a director of the company.
The photos provided detailed documentation of the stages of construction of the Titanic at the Belfast shipyard and preparations for the maiden voyage of the vessel, hailed at the time as the largest ship ever built.
While examining the rare photographs, Molony and his colleagues noticed a 30-foot-long black mark running diagonally along the front side of the ship’s hull at the position where it sustained deep punctures after colliding with the iceberg. The researchers consulted engineers at the Imperial College London who determined that the black mark was very likely caused by a fire in one of the Titanic’s coal bunkers.
According to Molony, the photo was crucial in the effort to determine what led to the sinking of the Titanic. The black mark gave direct physical evidence of previous damage and weakening of the section of the ship’s hull that sustained impact with the iceberg.
However, this is not the first time that a fire inside one of Titanic’s coal bunkers has been reported or mentioned. The fact was acknowledged during the official inquiry into the cause of the sinking of the ship.
The judge reportedly downplayed the fire, but Molony claimed that the inquiry should have given more attention to the possible role that the fire played in the sinking of the ship. The fire likely damaged the steel wall of the ship’s hull, making it more vulnerable to deep piercing when it collided with the iceberg, Molony claimed.
Molony went on to allege that the owner of the ship was aware of the fire but deliberately concealed the information because delaying the ship’s voyage would have caused him a serious financial loss. According to Molony, the fire was still raging at the time that Titanic was deliberately reversed into its berth in Southampton so that the side of the ship damaged by the fire was facing the sea. This was done to ensure that the passengers at the dock could not see the damage.
While men struggled to put out the fire, J. Bruce Ismay, the president of the company that built the Titanic, gave the ship’s crew strict instructions not to talk about the fire and to keep the ship’s nearly 2,500 passengers in the dark about it.
The decision to cover up the fire was criminally negligent, according to Molony, because it was clear that it could have caused serious explosions below decks during the voyage.
The majority of the 2,500 passengers, about 2,000 women and children, traveled third class in crowded compartments below decks.
However, some experts have questioned Molony’s new theory.
According to the New York Times, David Hill, a former honorary secretary of the British Titanic Society, who has researched the sinking of the Titanic for more than six decades, said that while the damage caused by fire may have contributed to the sinking of the ship, it was not the primary cause.
Hill argued that the impact with the iceberg would have caused enough damage to sink the ship even if the fire had not previously weakened the steel protecting its hull.
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