Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Lifeboat Legacy

When the Titanic set sail from Southampton on the 10th April 1912, she had 20 lifeboats. This would have saved a third of the passengers and crew on board, something that may strike us as horrifying now but was perfectly natural at the time. Architects were confident in the use of watertight compartments in the design of the ship, believing them to be the epitome of safety. Thus, less lifeboats were needed. If a ship was not built with watertight compartments, more lifeboats were needed. Remarkably, the Titanic sailed with four more lifeboats than what was required by law at the time, and Thomas Andrews, the designer of the Titanic actually requested there should be 64 lifeboats. But White Star Line, the company that owned the Titanic, shot this down as they believed too many lifeboats would clutter the deck space. It has since been calculated that 51 lifeboats would have been needed to save every person on board the ship.

Interestingly enough, the civil servant who inspected the Titanic before she sailed, Maurice Clarke, believed there should have been more lifeboats. In some handwritten notes he made on the day of inspection, Clarke clearly stated the ship was not as safe as it could be, but made no mention of this in his official report because his job was on the line - White Star Line was pressurising Clarke's employer for a squeaky clean report. Despite this, he acknowledged that it would have been impossible to increase the lifeboats because of lack of funds and manpower. Regardless, Clarke did not mention his misgivings at the inquiry into the disaster.

Poignantly, Clarke had written "a sufficiency of boats would allay a panic."

These handwritten notes are expected to reach £30,000.

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