Confirmation that all crew members of the submersible disappeared during a dive to the wreck of the Titanic nearly a week ago means the massive search operation launched in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean has new priorities.
The US Coast Guard confirmed Thursday afternoon that all five men on board had died following what was likely a “catastrophic implosion” of the OceanGate Titan submarine.
Many questions remain about what exactly happened and the aim is to do everything in power to try to answer them.
Will the bodies be found?
Rear Admiral Mauger said he could not confirm whether the US Coast Guard would be able to locate the bodies of the victims.
Those on board were wealthy British businessmen Hamish Harding and Shahzada Dawood, whose son Suleman joined him on the Titan.
OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush was also on the crew, as was former French Navy diver Paul-Henry Nargeolet.
What will happen to research?
It is not yet known which agency will lead the investigation, as there is no protocol for this type of incident with a submersible.
Rear Admiral Mauger said the investigation was particularly complex because the incident took place in a remote part of the ocean and involved people of different nationalities.
The US Coast Guard, which has already played a leading role in the operation, is expected to continue to play an important role.
They said they would continue to investigate the debris field site and that several vessels, medical personnel, and technicians remained in the area. The teams will begin to be demobilized within the next 24 hours.
The remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) that operate on the seabed around Titanic will also remain in place for now.
“I don’t have a timeline for stopping remote seabed operations at this point,” Rear Admiral Mauger said.
What about the wreckage of the submarine?
It will be essential to collect as much debris as possible, including pieces of the carbon fiber that part of the ship was made of so that authorities can form an idea of what happened. Efforts continue to map the area in which parts of the Titan were found.
Paul Hankin, a submarine expert, explained that the search so far has found five major pieces of debris which confirm that it is indeed the missing submarine.
How will the incident be investigated?
Rear Admiral Mauger said the governments of the countries involved in the incident have met to discuss what form an investigation might take.
Those involved in the investigation will seek to confirm the theory that an implosion caused the death of those aboard the Titan and if so, to determine when and why it happened.
The admiral added that while the scope of the investigation is outside of his remit, broader questions regarding the regulations and standards applicable to such underwater missions will likely be the focus of a future review.
Another potential source of information about what exactly happened to Titan could be hydrophones – underwater microphones used to listen to illicit atomic weapons testing.
They have established that the Argentine submarine San Juan imploded after disappearing off the coast of Argentina in 2017.
Hydrophones may well have captured the end of the Oceangate Titan and give us the exact moment the tragedy occurred.
The US Navy detected sounds “consistent with an implosion” shortly after OceanGate’s Titan submersible lost contact, a Navy official said.