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ON A CLEAR, CALM, MOONLESS NIGHT . . . THE MAIDEN VOYAGE OF THE TITANIC IS A LESSON FOR ALL TIMES.|
Although most pundits intimate that we are sailing through uncharted waters, that is only half of the truth. We may not know how far Scylla or Charybdis may be from the current position of the world, or how close the monster iceberg may be as it passes by, seasoned mariners know more or less what to do when faced with such situations. Their plans may not work as intended, due to circumstances beyond their control, but there is a chance they will be able to snatch life from the jaws of death. The captain and all the mates are waiting for the lookout to holler out what he sees coming up ahead.
Sometimes, some of the best plans turn out to be the deadliest ones, such as that which misinformed Captain Smith of RMS Titanic on the night of April 14, 1912. Although lay persons would think that sailing a ship through a field of icebergs was suicidally insane, it was common practice for liners to do so. The captain relies on the look-outs to spot icebergs long before they are near the ship. This is true if the sky is clear, with starlight to show the outlines of the icebergs, and the surface of the sea free of fog or haze, which depends on the cooperation of the weather. Both conditions were present where the Titanic was at. It was the counsel of experience too to sail the ship faster through the ice field under such conditions, as the chance of a collision with an unseen iceberg is low, while the chance of colliding with one because of a change in weather conditions is much higher. So, why did the Titanic hit an iceberg?
Well, the anti-climactic reason it hit an iceberg was because the iceberg was not big at all.
A large ice field could be seen 5 miles away. A 50-foot high iceberg could be seen 3-4 miles away on a clear night, and the night was clear on April 14, 1912. But there was also no wind at all - a perfect calm - which is all the more deadly as the iceberg would make no froth at its base to reveal its presence, nor would it crack into smaller pieces due to wave motion. And there was no moonlight either. A medium-sized iceberg in such a situation could only be seen when it is just half a mile away, and a small iceberg (called an ice-growler), just a quarter of a mile away. At the faster speed that the Titanic was moving, to get out of harm's way, at 22 knots, it had only 80 seconds to get out of the way of the medium iceberg that it collided with. The iceberg was so small that when the passengers went out on the deck to see it, it was nowhere to be found.
Compounding this unexpected event was the captain's decision to speed up the ship for a short while after it had come to a stop, which may have increased the size of the hole on the hull, as well as weaken the hull even further.
Why do we have to study the Titanic? Because it holds lessons for all of us. It is the basis for an analytical model of how human beings can blunder into disasters, even with the most experienced hands on board, even in the clearest and calmest weather, on the largest liner known to man. That was the maiden voyage of the Titanic, but it was the valedictory, and last voyage of Captain Edward Smith, a voyage to crown a lifetime of distinguished seamanship.
Do we see a parallel between the tragedy of the Titanic and the present situation where the largest and fastest ships are gathered against a tiny land-berg called North Korea, whose every inch could be mapped out in utmost detail, in a clear and calm moment that is today? Captain Smith would probably advise, "Go slow. Do not fear the giant icebergs that you can see, but rather the small icebergs that you can barely see. Avoiding a field of icebergs is more prudent than racing into and beyond it. For with a change in the haze or fog of war, fortunes change, and the glory of victory is not worth the cost of not a shipload, but a planet-load of human lives."