It is one of the most famous tragedies of modern times. On the night of April 14 to 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic, a transatlantic liner inaugurated 4 days earlier, was shipwrecked following a collision with an iceberg. More than 1,500 people died in the disaster. Since then, many questions have arisen about the circumstances of the tragedy. Could the collision have been avoided? Why was the ship going so fast in a reputedly dangerous area? Would there have been more survivors if the liner had had more lifeboats?
In the documentary Titanic: 20 years later with James Cameron, broadcast this Sunday, May 28 at 9 p.m. on National Geographic, the director of the film Titanic looks into this last question. As a reminder, the RMS Titanic only had 20 lifeboats, i.e. a capacity of 1178 passengers, while it had 2200 human lives on board and could carry up to 3500. But would having more lifeboats have makes a difference on the balance sheet?
“If there had been more lifeboats, it would have cost hundreds of lives”
To answer this question, James Cameron and his team worked with an exact replica of Titanic’s wooden lifeboats. They thus discovered that launching a canoe full of passengers required about thirty minutes. Sending the 20 canoes simultaneously would therefore have taken more than two hours, while the boat sank in just 2 hours and 40 minutes. In short, having more canoes would not necessarily have saved more passengers, since the crew would not have had time to launch them anyway. “If there had been more lifeboats, they would surely have been in the way and it would have cost hundreds of lives”, says James Cameron in the documentary. It should be noted that the filling of the 20 canoes of the Titanic had already been done in haste, to the point that some of them had left half empty.
Of course, all this is only guesswork and we will never really know what would have happened if the Titanic had left with more boats on board. Be that as it may, since the shipwreck of the liner, new laws have been enacted in order to oblige all shipping companies to have lifeboats in sufficient number.
A lifeboat in the movie “Titanic”. © 20TH CENTURY FOX