Submarine trip to the Titanic booking soon — for those with deep pockets

US company OceanGate is offering commercial diving expeditions down to the Titanic. Tourists will share a submarine with marine researchers. But the tickets don't come cheap.

She is the most famous ship in the world — and the most famous shipwreck, as well. You'd be hard-pressed to find a person who hasn't heard the tragic story of how the RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg the night of April 14, 1912, and sank less than three hours later.

Lifestyle | 25.04.2018

Only the most wealthy passengers could afford tickets for first-class cabins on the ocean liner's first — and final — trip.

In 2019, those with vast coffers can roam the decks of the Titanic once again. A US company called OceanGate is planning several trips down to the Titanic this summer, with seats in its deep-sea submarine going for $105,129 dollars (92,000 euros) a piece.

That's the equivalent of a first class ticket on the ship's maiden voyage, adjusted for inflation.

Europe | 11.04.2012

The long-term mission, spread out over several years, is conceived as a "longitudinal survey to collect images, video and sonar data" and will "provide an objective basis to assess the decay of the wreck over time and help document and preserve its submerged history," according to OceanGate.

Stockton Rush, founder and CEO of OceanGate started the business nine years ago when he wanted to go on a deep-sea dive and realized he couldn't rent a manned submersible.

He decided to connect the idea of underwater tourism with important scientific research.

"The future of our planet lies in the ocean," Rush told DW. "So I looked at it from a business perspective. What will people want to do that has value? There are wrecks that are more important and less surveyed than the Titanic. But there's nothing that comes even close in terms of awareness."

The 1997 movie blockbuster with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet is one reason why so many people know about the Titanic's tragic fate

A long way down

The wreck of the Titanic lies on the bottom of the Atlantic, roughly 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) below the ocean's surface, around 600 kilometers (370 miles) off the coast of Newfoundland. It was discovered in 1985.

To reach a depth that great, OceanGate will send scientists and paying guests down in a small submarine mission, appropriately called Titan.

The submersible, which is made of carbon fiber and titanium, instead of more commonly used metals, will carry a pilot, three tourists and one expert on dives lasting between 10 and 12 hours.

Those travelers who pay the $105,000 fare will have the trip of a lifetime getting a close-up of the Titanic.

Meanwhile deep-sea marine biologists will be doing hard work, like survey the several hundred species that are unique to the Titanic and her surroundings.

Marine archaeologists will scan the debris field with lasers and special cameras and learn about the things that ordinary people traveled with, or what materials survive the years of decay.

Decay is the operative word when it comes to the shipwreck itself, too. No one has been down to the Titanic in around nine years, so it will be interesting to see what she looks like now.

By going on multiple dives every year, Rush plans to get exact information on how fast the decay of the ship is progressing. It's hoped lasers will be able to measure shrinkage in millimeters from year to year.

In 2010, researchers from Dalhousie University in Canada discovered a new type of bacteria on the Titanic called Halomonas titanicae.

Halomonas titanicae can survive in conditions inhospitable to most other lifeforms — and it loves to eat iron. It's one reason why some experts say the Titanic will completely decay within the next 20 years.

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A huge panoramic image of the Titanic

Recovery of the Titanic 'logistically impossible'

Not everyone shares this professional opinion, however. Jon Adams, director of the Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of South Hampton, UK, doesn't support the "Go see the Titanic quickly, while you still can!"-philosophy. He says there are ways to significantly slow down degradation today.

One of those methods is active galvanic protection, which involves coating steel with zinc to prevent corrosion.

Still, with interest in the Titanic as high as it is, wouldn't it make sense to recover her and put her up in a museum for all to see? Perhaps. But raising the Titanic is logistically impossible, says Adams.

"You'd have to raise something that's the size of several town blocks and made of steel," he pointed out when we spoke.

Adams says there are three major obstacles to recovering the Titanic.

Aside from its size and weight, it would have to be dragged up several kilometers before it reached the surface. And it is way out in the open ocean. The operation would cost millions, if it was doable at all.

Adams knows what he's talking about. In the 1980s, he was part of the recovery of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's flagship vessel. That whole process, including planning, took 11 years and cost 4 million pounds (4.4 million euro).

And the Mary Rose was a wooden ship and a fraction of the size of the Titanic.

Another issue: "Raising a wreck is not a one-time operation," Adams says.

If the Titanic was ever to be taken out of the water, she would have to be kept in a highly controlled environment to prevent her from disintegrating. Keeping this up would likely cost millions more every year.   

Passengers on OceanGate's Titan submarine will be able to see details like this lifeboat crane for themselves

When nature calls

So the Titanic will never see the light of day, as it were. But you can always join OceanGate's dive expeditions to visit her — if you have a 100 grand to spare.

"Shipwrecks hold a special allure," especially the Titanic, says Adams. "And these days, people aspire to collect special experiences. If you already have the house in New York and the house in Paris, you do something like this. There are a lot of people with a lot of money in the world."

It would certainly be an experience, perhaps matched only by space tourism. And the queues of potential passengers are building up, with people happy to put up with the cramped conditions and bare-bones "in flight" catering.

But even those who can afford such far-out experiences would prefer they came with a few of their usual "dry land" creature comforts.

Such as toilets.

"The most common concern is 'I'm terrified that I might have to go to the bathroom,'" says OceanGate's Stockton Rush.

"Because the way you go to the bathroom in other small subs is they give you a cup and a skirt to wrap around your waist and that's it. But our sub is lighter and bigger. It actually has a bathroom where you can put up a curtain and have some privacy."

So now all that's standing between you and the submarine trip of a lifetime is the small issue of 105,000 dollars. 

The grand 125 year voyage of cruise ships

Cruising for pleasure – a new chapter in seafaring

January 22, 1891 was an unpleasant day in Cuxhaven. The wind had picked up and the sea was rough. On board the "Augusta Victoria," many of the 174 passengers where battling to keep their stomachs calm. Lots of oysters in the dining room remained uneaten. But the following two months changed everything: the "Orient Expedition," the world’s first cruise ship voyage, was a massive success.

The grand 125 year voyage of cruise ships

Born of necessity - heading to southern climes in winter

Albert Ballin’s idea to send the "Augusta Victoria" on a pleasure cruise to warmer climes was simply brilliant. The 144 meter (472 ft) vessel, in 1889 the world's biggest passenger ship, would otherwise have spent the winter docked in the harbor. During this time there was little demand for the usual transatlantic passage as the Northern Atlantic would have been too dangerous to travel.

The grand 125 year voyage of cruise ships

The birth of holiday cruises

With his Mediterranean pleasure cruise in 1891, Ballin, then head of the Hapag shipping company, found a great business opportunity; there were customers for sunny destinations like Constantinople or Naples. And the officers on board no longer had to deal with desperate immigrants as passengers, but rather wealthy industrialists. It was a coup, setting Hapag apart from its competitors.

The grand 125 year voyage of cruise ships

Passage to America was a matter of life and death

In order to fully appreciate Ballin's idea, it's worth looking at history. Ocean travel until the middle of the 19th century was anything but fun. In steerage, where people replaced freight that had come from America, conditions were very challenging. Epidemics spread and food was scarce. And worst of all, how long the boats would take to cross the Atlantic was unknown and variable.

The grand 125 year voyage of cruise ships

Millions leave Germany after 1850 to escape unemployment and hunger

Even if the sea gods were kind it would have taken roughly six weeks to reach the life-saving coast of America. If weather conditions were bad many passengers never even made it. Millions starved on board or sank on the difficult to navigate people-carrying cargo ships. The chance of actually reaching the much desired destination in the 19th century was a mere 50 percent.

The grand 125 year voyage of cruise ships

Sailing in style – the lady's salon on the "Augusta Victoria"

The situation only began to improve with the arrival of steam boats. In 1889, the launch of the "Teutonic" marked the first ever ocean steamer without sails to be taken into service. It belonged to the British "White Star Line," which was competing with other shipping companies for control of the Atlantic market. The aim was to keep improving on speed and comfort, at least in first class.

The grand 125 year voyage of cruise ships

The set back caused by the sinking of the Titanic

When it entered service in 1912, the Titanic was the largest ship afloat in the world. It wanted to set new standards in luxury passenger facilities and service. But on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York it collided with an iceberg and sank. 1514 of the 2200 passengers died in one of the deadliest commercial peacetime maritime disasters in modern history.

The grand 125 year voyage of cruise ships

Sea cruises today are hugely popular and affordable

Progress can not be stopped. Over time both the number of cruise ships and passengers increased. In 2015 some 22 million people worldwide went on a cruise. And as it turns into a mass business the prices sink. In Germany you'd currently have to shell out about 1,500 euros (1,634 USD) for a voyage on the high seas - 30 percent cheaper than five years earlier.

The grand 125 year voyage of cruise ships

Floating palaces: FlowRider and iFly on the "Quantum of the Seas"

A library on board? That was yesterday - in 2016 it's all about surf simulators, IMAX cinemas and 10 storey high water slides. Herbs for the gourmet meals are grown in the ship's own greenhouse and robots mix drinks at the bars. In 2016, 11 new super class cruise ships are to be launched worldwide, with suites measuring up to 360 square meters. But 1,500 euro will not get you far here.