OceanGate Co-Founder Defends Against James Cameron Criticism: ‘Impossible for Anyone to Really Speculate From the Outside’ (Video)

“I know from firsthand experience that we were extremely committed to safety and risk mitigation was a key part of the company culture,” Guillermo Söhnlein said of the Titan

OceanGate co-founder Guillermo Söhnlein (Times Radio/YouTube)

OceanGate co-founder Guillermo Söhnlein has responded to “Titantic” director James Cameron’s recent criticism that the Titan submersible was “too experimental to carry passengers.”

“In this kind of community, there are completely different opinions and views about how to do things, how to design submersibles, how to engineer them, build them, how to operate in the dives,” Söhnlein told the U.K.’s Times Radio on Friday. “But one thing that’s true of me and the other experts, is none of us were involved in the design, engineering, building, testing or even diving of the subs. So it’s impossible for anyone to really speculate from the outside. I was involved in the early phases of the overall development program during our predecessor subs to Titan, and I know from firsthand experience that we were extremely committed to safety and risk mitigation was a key part of the company culture.”

Söhnlein co-founded the deep-sea diving company with Titan passenger and OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush in 2009. After serving as CEO and COO, he stepped down in 2013 but still retains a minority stake.

When asked about regulations for submersibles, he acknowledged that they are “pretty sparse” and “antiquated or designed for specific instances” due to the limited amount of deep dive attempts. He emphasized that the intent of the missions is “not to conduct joyrides down to this wreck.”

“One of the risks that the community takes every time it operates is that if there is some sort of catastrophic failure the general public will backlash against the entire community and basically say it shouldn’t occur,” Söhnlein added. “But just like with space exploration the best way to preserve the memories and the legacies of these five explorers is to conduct an investigation, find out what went wrong, take lessons learned and then move forward.” 

Cameron, who has made 33 dives to the Titanic wreckage site and designed his own 24-foot submersible known as the DeepSea Challenger, told ABC News that many in the “deep submergence engineering community” were “very concerned” about Titan.

“A number of the top players in the deep submergence engineering community even wrote letters to the company, saying that what they were doing was too experimental to carry passengers and that it needed to be certified,” he said. “I’m struck by the similarity of the Titanic disaster itself, where the captain was repeatedly warned about ice ahead of his ship, and yet he steamed at full speed into an ice field on a moonless night and many people died as a result. For us, it’s a very similar tragedy where warnings went unheeded. To take place at the same exact site with all the diving that’s going on all around the world, I think it’s just astonishing. It’s really quite surreal.”

In addition to Rush, Titan’s passengers included French Navy commander and Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet, British-Pakistani billionaire Shahzada Dawood, his 19-year-old son Suleman Dawood and British billionaire Hamish Harding.

On June 18, the group was promised they would be able to explore the wreck of the Titanic over an eight-day expedition for the price of $250,000. Instead, they were quickly met with disaster.

Communication with Titan ceased an hour and 45 minutes into the dive. Typically, it takes the vehicle three hours to reach the Titanic and eight hours to complete the full dive. Throughout this time, the underwater vehicle is supposed to emit a ping every 15 minutes and the vessel is able to communicate with the surface crew via short text messages. No additional messages were received after the Titan’s 11:15 a.m. ping. It also missed its scheduled resurfacing time of 4:30 p.m. Several hours later, at 7:10 p.m., the U.S. Coast Guard was notified of the missing submersible.

When it first set out, the submersible had a breathable air supply that was estimated to last 96 hours for five people. Many believed that oxygen would have been depleted by Thursday morning. That day, OceanGate issued an update that all the Titan passengers were presumed dead.

“We now believe that our CEO Stockton Rush, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood, Hamish Harding, and Paul-Henri Nargeolet, have sadly been lost,” the company said. “These men were true explorers who shared a distinct spirit of adventure, and a deep passion for exploring and protecting the world’s oceans. Our hearts are with these five souls and every member of their families during this tragic time. We grieve the loss of life and joy they brought to everyone they knew.”

Since the Titan has gone missing, many alarming facts about the vessel’s safety have emerged. Because it operated in international waters, the sub was not certified as seaworthy by any regulatory agency. There was also no onboard navigation system on the sub, which was controlled by a Logitech F710 Bluetooth game controller. “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent David Pogue boarded the sub in 2022 and detailed his hesitations about the vehicle at the time. Despite these concerns, Pogue also told NPR that the submersible had seven different ways to return to the surface should disaster strike.

A variety of international teams joined together to search for the missing submersible, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard as well as aircrafts from the Royal Canadian Air Force, the U.S. Air National Guard. Additionally, several commercial and research ships were involved in the search. On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Navy heard the possible implosion of Titan days ago.

Watch Söhnlein’s full interview in the video above.