In addition to being a major Hollywood director who has crafted films like The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009), James Cameron is also a well-respected deep sea explorer. Using the submersible Deepsea Challenger, Cameron became the first person to dive to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench alone, in a submersible he helped design. He has dived to the site of the Titanic wreckage 33 times. In the past, Cameron has used his knowledge to help NASA build cameras for the Curiosity Mars rover and helped the Environmental Protection Agency troubleshoot solutions to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
After news hit Thursday that the missing Titanic tourist submersible, Titan, had imploded during its descent, killing all five passengers aboard, Cameron was interviewed by ABC News along with his friend and fellow deep sea explorer Bob Ballard. Ballard is famous for discovering the shipwreck of the Titanic in 1985 and the two men are uniquely equipped to discuss submersibles and diving to the Titanic site in particular.
To me the big irony is that the Titanic sank because of bad seamanship. The captain was warned and he made a decision to go full speed into a known ice field… I kind of feel that that’s what happened here. I feel that this was such a preventable tragedy. We’ve never had a tragedy like this in the entire history of deep submergence.James Cameron, ABC News
Bob Ballard said that he and James Cameron (and everyone else in the small world of deep sea diving) knew that the submersible had imploded and the passengers had been killed by Monday. When they received news that the vessel had lost tracking and a “loud bang” had been heard, they knew there was no other option. They declined media interviews until Thursday when the fate of the Titan was confirmed to the public.
Cameron was critical of the “reckless” company that owned the Titan, OceanGate, and its CEO Stockton Rush, who was aboard the vessel when it imploded. He said he had “deep concerns” over the technology OceanGate used as well as their refusal to pursue certification saying, “There is no excuse for what happened here and I find it appalling and tragic.”
The director also expressed that he wished he would have spoken up about his concerns earlier. Cameron said he knew of Stockton Rush and had in fact been invited to dive in the Titan this season but declined, saying “someone is going to get killed” because of the vessel’s design. In an interview with CNN, Cameron said members of the deep submergence community wrote a letter to OceanGate, saying they were worried their ethos could “lead to catastrophe.” In that interview Cameron also discussed the hubris involved in the tragedy and how it was “heartbreaking that it was so preventable”.
Cameron says he’s not worried that the Titan tragedy will stop people from exploring the ocean or innovating submersibles because those people are motivated by curiosity and will move forward regardless. He sees the impact as adventure tourists being warned (or even empowered) to ensure the companies they work with are pursuing safety certification.