Titan submersible tragedy highlights lack of safeguards for high-risk travel

Titan submersible tragedy highlights lack of safeguards for high-risk travel

Climbers have long climbed to the top of Mount Everest, and scientists have descended into the Antarctic Ocean in submersibles. In recent decades, travelers with deeper pockets and less expertise have joined these explorers or gone beyond paying to travel to the bottom of the ocean or the edge of space to touch Earth’s literal limits. But as evidenced by the deaths of five people aboard the Titan submersible, there are no obvious safeguards in case something goes wrong.

This week’s tragedy highlights issues of rescue operations and government oversight in this new world of extreme travel – who is responsible for search and rescue, and who pays for it? Is it even possible to buy insurance against disaster? It also raises questions about when the risks are too great and the threats too great to defend against.

All this at a time when an increasing number of thrill-seekers are taking on risky – and risky – adventures and expeditions.

“People want these experiences, and they’re going to want them, and they’re willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money for them,” said Anthony Berklich, travel consultant and founder of the luxury travel service. motivated citizen,

Innovations in technology have opened up the possibilities for travel in recent years, and wealthier travelers are willing to spend more to get ahead, especially when it comes to space travel and underwater exploration.

“Some people love watches, others love traveling because that’s what makes them money,” said Roman Chiporukha of Roman & Erica, a referral-based luxury lifestyle and travel firm based in New York City. And spacevip service, which connects customers with space tourism operators.

According to it, about one million tourists go on some form of underwater sightseeing every year. triton submarinesA Florida-based company that offers “superyacht submersibles”. (These massive, ultraluxury and customizable underwater vessels reportedly cost between $2.5 million and $40 million to build and count James Cameron, the “Titanic” film director, as an investor.)

Expeditions can range from short submarine tours to two hour, $180 round trip It’s about plunging 100 feet below the waves off the Hawaiian island of Maui for an overnight stay at Lover’s Deep, a chef-and-butler-equipped submarine hotel that lures travelers to the reefs of St. Lucia in the Caribbean for about $300,000 a night. will take you through. Expeditions to the Titanic cost $250,000 per person to see the Titanic.

Diego Gomes, 36, a medical director from Seattle, visited Antarctica in February. They booked a trip with Seabourn Cruise Line, where most cabins start at $10,000, and upon reaching the Antarctic Ocean, were able to glimpse the ocean floor aboard Seabourn’s Expedition Submarine.

Speaking before the fate of the Titan was revealed, Mr Gomes said the experience had exceeded his expectations. “The public has never heard of underwater life in Antarctica, and that’s what inspired me to sign up for it,” he said.

He said, prior to boarding, he and the other passengers were given a tour of the safety features on the submarine, and were continuously engaged with the ship as they descended to 1,000 feet.

“I felt very safe,” he said. “I would do it again.”

Then there is space tourism. The sector is booming with companies headed by billionaires blue core And spacex Already successfully launching suborbital space flights. Virgin Galactic, where tickets for a suborbital space flight start at $450,000, said in a news release It plans to launch its maiden flight next week.

“With last year’s Blue Origin and Virgin launches and photos from the James Webb Telescope, interest in space has reignited and it has become the cultural zeitgeist,” Mr Chiporukha said. His spacevip This year the service has seen a 40 per cent increase in enquiries, he said.

And very little training is required for aspiring astronauts. Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin, whose passengers include “Star Trek” television star William Shatner, says passengers can be “fully trained” to experience an explosion 62 miles above Earth in just two days .

Insurance and support systems are available for many forms of adventure travel. Those who wish to climb Everest can join expedition companies, hire Sherpas to guide them during the climb, and purchase travel insurance to provide various protections up to the height of the mountain.

When things go wrong, companies can often be on hand to transport you to a hospital or field rescue, provided they know where you are. If you can find a helicopter you can be brought Frostbite while attempting to summit in the Himalayas, If you’re caught in civil unrest overseas, former Navy SEALs can come rescue you.

Nick Gorassi, Spokesman Servius GroupThe company, which offers private travel security on a case-by-case basis, said the fee could be between five and six figures.

Then there are travel-assistance companies that offer annual subscriptions for security needs, medical evacuation and rescue services. Kovac Global The company offers a “fully indemnified” package for medical and security evacuation, including search and rescue, that costs about $2,800, with up to $1.3 million in expenses, said Ross Thompson, chief executive of the company.

To date, no customers have exceeded the maximum limit of coverage, he said, adding that the most expensive evacuation from Indonesia to Canada was for a passenger who was seriously ill. Its cost was $400,000.

In the United States, federal and state agencies, including the National Park Service, will cover the cost of search and rescue efforts, depending on where you are. A spokeswoman for the agency said that for underwater rescues, the US Coast Guard, which led the Titan rescue, is not legally allowed to charge for its actions.

Three countries deployed at least nine ships and several aircraft and remotely operated vehicles during a massive rescue effort to save the damaged Titan submarine. Experts estimate the cost to be at least in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Mr. Thompson put the cost of the Titan search and rescue response at about $100 million, and said that ROVs are “very expensive to operate.”

U.S. President Mickey Hastings said, “Ultimately, the taxpayers will be responsible because that’s where the Coast Guard’s budget comes from.” national association for search and rescueA non-profit organization that focuses on rescue in the wild.

But most domestic search and rescue teams are volunteer organizations, said Chris Boyer, executive director of the Search and Rescue Association.

He emphasized that the new level of extreme travel requires a rethinking of what rescue efforts can reasonably be undertaken in the event of a disaster.

“Can people do such things and expect a voluntary response? Or do they expect a response from some agency and the government?” Mr. Boyer spoke specifically about space tourism. “Who is going to do this and how does it work?”

Indeed, as the disastrous trip to Titan indicates, even established travel-assistance companies face limitations.

“There’s nothing you can do to help someone 15,000 feet below the surface of the ocean,” said Dan Richards, chief executive of the Marine Corps. global rescue, which provides evacuation and field rescue services. “We can only do what is humanly possible.”

In terms of insurance policies, there may be new calculations on how to insure extreme risk, said Kovac Global’s Mr. Thompson. Older models are no longer suitable for complex rescue efforts whose costs are unprecedented. Mr Thompson said, “We’re a long way from anyone saying, ‘I’ll dive to the Titanic.'”

The Federal Aviation Administration oversees the regulation of commercial space tourism and requires operators to “demonstrate insurance, or financial responsibility, to cover potential damage and injury to the public, public property, and any government personnel and property at risk from the operation”. require, a spokeswoman said in a statement.

Additional policies, such as insurance for participants boarding the capsule for travel into space, are “a matter between the operator and the participant.”

Regulation for these supernatural experiences has also lagged behind the pace of the rapidly growing market.

The FAA’s oversight of space tourism is limited to “the safety of those on the ground and others” in the nation’s domestic and maritime airspace, an agency spokesman said. The FAA has no role in “regulating the safety of passengers on commercial space vehicles”.

And there’s little attention paid to the “niche little market” of deep-sea venturing to get a closer look at the wreck, said maritime history expert Salvatore Mercogliano. Professor at Campbell University in Beauce Creek, NC

There was little or no regulation regarding the design of the Titan. Classification of submersibles is not mandatory in international waters, a loophole that allowed Oceangate Expeditions to avoid this step, Dr. Mercogliano said. The Everett, Washington-based company claimed that the Titan was so advanced that certification by rating agencies would take years, a situation the organization described in a 2019 blog post as “the bane of rapid innovation”. (The post has been removed.)

Dr. Mercogliano said that to further complicate matters, Titan was operating in international waters, where it was not subject to the jurisdiction of any one country.

“There is no real external agency to ensure that things like redundant communication systems were fitted, emergency beacons to be launched if necessary,” he said.

International maritime law requires all available ships to respond to distress calls at sea, a regulation put in place more than a century ago after the sinking of the Titanic and which fueled this week’s massive search and rescue response. inspired.

It remains to be seen whether last week’s ill-fated Titan expedition will lead to better monitoring. But the incident has sparked a conversation among explorers and wealthy travelers about who should actually go on such a perilous journey.

West Hansen, 61-year-old ultramarathon canoe racer and member explorers club, has sailed the 2,100-mile-long Volga River and the entire length of the Amazon River in Russia. Next week, along with four other experienced kayakers, Mr. Hansen will embark on a voyage to sail the Northwest Passage. He believes that tourists who are “hanging around” in areas that “explorers are just getting to see” may be lulled into a false sense of security.

Mr Hansen said the desire to explore and test the limits is extremely human, but money “doesn’t reduce the potential danger.”

Debra Kamin contributed reporting.

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