Titanic Conspiracy Theories

The sinking of the Titanic is one of the great tragedies of history, so, naturally, there is a Titanic conspiracy. Rather, there are Titanic conspiracies, as multiple conspiracy theories have been put forward to “explain” the Titanic sinking. Some of these Titanic conspiracies are truly unbelievable (in the literal sense of the term), like that the sinking of the Titanic was the result of a “cursed mummy” being snuck on board the ship, whereas other Titanic conspiracy theories, in spite of being conspiracy theories, are admirably coherent (which is to say they make very limited, non-extraordinary claims, like that that the Titanic actually ran into pack ice, not an iceberg). We’ll cover what seem to us to be the three main Titanic conspiracy theories, covering two that don’t seem that outrageous, and then concluding with one that seems outlandish.

We should be begin by stating that this is purely an informative article, and that we are certainly not advocating any of these alternative theories. We have no reason to doubt that the Titanic did in fact strike an iceberg at 11:40 PM on April 14, 1912, and that the ship sank a little over two and a half hours later, causing around 1,500 deaths. When we wrote an article to commemorate the 100 anniversary of the Titanic sinking, for example, we were of course operating on the assumption that the well-regarded sources we were drawing from were in fact reliable and true. That said, conspiracy theories are always fun to explore, and so explore we will.

One Titanic conspiracy, which was referenced above, is that the Titanic ran into ice pack – essentially low-lying sheets of frozen water from the sea – and not an iceberg, which are chunks of glaciers or ice shelves that break off into the sea (they are also made of fresh water because they are compacted snow). This theory was suggested by a former member of the Ice Pilotage Service, Captain L. M. Collins, who actually has extensive ice navigation experience. He bases his theory on a few different pieces of evidence, like the fact that lookouts on board the ship said that they saw haze, even though no other ships in the area reported this. Collins suggests that they didn’t see haze, but rather ice pack, and this is what the Titanic ran into.

Another Titanic conspiracy theory was put forward by an engineer at Ohio State University, Robert Essenhigh. Essenhigh suggests that a coal fire (the Titanic was coal-fired) on board the ship propelled the Titanic to unsafe speeds in the icy Northern Atlantic, which is where the Titanic hit an iceberg, a fact that Essenhigh’s theory doesn’t contest. Basically, too much burning coal increased the Titanic’s speed, and this increased speed contributed to the downfall of the Titanic.

Yet another theory suggests that the Titanic never sank at all. Rather, the ship that sank was the Olympic, the sister-ship of the Titanic. In a nutshell, this is the theory: White Star Line, the company that owned both the Titanic and Olympic, was in financial trouble because of an accident involving the Olympic ship and a Royal Navy ship. The Olympic was blamed for the accident, so White Star’s insurance company wouldn’t cover the costs associated with the accident. White Star then made some minimal repairs to the Olympic and converted the ship into the “Titanic” (by switching out any parts of the ship that had the name “Titanic” on it, for example). Essentially, the plan was to ditch the “Titanic” (actually the Olympic) at sea to collect the insurance money for it. The theory is quite complicated and involves several different seemingly extraordinary claims – like that the actual Titanic ship sailed as the Olympic for 25 years (because of the conversion), and that the disguised Olympic ship actually ran into a rescue ship (not an inceberg) that was in on White Star’s plan – but at bottom it is an insurance scam conspiracy theory.

Of course, there are a number of other Titanic conspiracy theories out there, but the “ice pack” theory, “coal fire” theory, and “insurance fraud” theory appear to be the main ones. As we said at the beginning, the first two Titanic conspiracies at least approach reasonable (simply because they don’t make extravagant claims and largely cohere with the accepted version of the story), but the third theory seems fanciful at best. In all likelihood, the Titanic hit an iceberg as described in the story we all know, and in any case we should focus on lamenting the lives lost, not speculating about alternative “explanations” of the Titanic sinking.

1 Comment

  1. John Mihaljevic

    Only the “insurance fraud’ Theory should be described as a “conspiracy”. The other two alternate theories do not involve any conspiracy, merely additional or alternate versions of the standard view of the event.

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