Between the “Titanic 5” and Hundreds of Migrants Deaths

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Governments, corporations, news outlets and social media reacted differently to two sea vessels’ tragedies, over the last two weeks. The first incident took place on 14 June. Over 500 migrants perished in the Mediterranean Sea. They were part of the group of at least 750 migrants who embarked on a rickety fishing trawler from Libya to Italy and perished in the Mediterranean Sea. They were fleeing from poverty, wars, and harsh lives in Asia and Africa. This was the second worst mass death of migrants on the Mediterranean Sea in recent history, coming second only to the death of 1,100 in April 2015.

A Greek coast guard had “escorted” the trawler for several hours before it capsized. But the BBC has argued that its action led to the tragic event. Eyewitness accounts of survivors confirmed the BBC’s claim. They reported they would not have suffered the mishap, which led to hundreds of people drowning if the coast guard had left them alone. The coast guard attempted to tow the boat, causing it to sway and eventually capsize.

And what happened after this? A few patrol boats and one helicopter were deployed to find survivors. Around 104 survivors from the 750 migrants, mainly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, were located. Most of these were men and boys. Most of the women and women and girls perished. They were too weak to fight for their lives against the treacherous waves of the Sea. To the world, they are now mere statistics. To the world, their names are unknown and their deaths are unsung.

The second incident happened on 19 June and eliminated anxiety for the first one in all major news outlets. It included five immensely wealthy people who forked over $250,000 to undertake an underwater cruise in the North Atlantic. They took the Titan, a submersible water vessel, to view the Titanic wreck on computer monitors, as high-net-worth tourists. And suddenly, they lost communication with the outside world, literally vanishing into the deep blue sea.

The fishing vessel of poor migrants received little attention, but in stark contrast, the underwater vessel mission sparked an incredible race, with mainstream media and social media users closely following the rescue.

Several wealthy countries including the United States, Canada and France immediately swung into action in one of the most extensive search operations ever undertaken. The US alone deployed three of its C-17 military transport planes for the search. These came with submersible boats and support equipment. It also dispatched an expensive aquatic drone which could plunge to a depth of 6,000 metres underwater to clearly survey the situation.

Almost $7 million had been spent on search efforts to recover the submersible vessel before it was declared a lost cause on Thursday. The submersible imploded catastrophically at a depth of 3,400km in the ocean, and since then, many people have said and written about it.

Several people, including some on the left, have declared the “Titanic 5” as heroes who were pushing the realms of science further and should thus be celebrated for their pioneering boldness. But this position is based on misconceptions and runs against the grain of hard facts.

The submersible’s trips to the Titanic brought no scientific or social advances. It was strictly business for OceanGate, the company which has been organising this sort of trips, and a super-expensive tourist distraction for some super-rich capitalists who could pay the humungous amount of $250,000 per head for turning the Ocean Bed into an underwater Disneyland for those who could pay.

The Titanic’s wreckage was simply their own “Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction. The expedition was more about playing at exploration whilst securing bragging rights with their money than adding to human knowledge. They were no Yuri Gagarin or Neil Armstrong who were trained professionals that would not have been able to go to outer space or the moon if they had to pay to book a space.

They are similar to Elon Musk or Richard Branson, parasites who can use their funds to make their ego trips look more about science, rather than the fact that they have the money to do so, while such money could have been used to make life better for over 828 million people who are food insecure, according to the United Nations World Food Programme.

OceanGate has been providing luxurious deep-sea expeditions for the richest of the rich since 2009. As a business that caters to rich capitalists seeking an underwater adventure, OceanGate carried out more than 200 deep-ocean expeditions in this period across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico.

The first of the company’s dives to the Titanic’s wreckage was in 2021, after initiating plans for these in 2018. Several dives have been made since then between 2021 and 2022. The ill-fated dive this month was supposed to go the deepest i.e., 4 kilometres into the deep blue sea. But the company had to wait 3 years to conduct its first trip to the Titanic due to technical concerns raised by regulators and experts.

At the time, David Lochridge, OceanGate’s director of marine operations, argued that the Titan needed more testing before use, citing the potential risks to passengers at extreme depths. He was simply fired by the company which gave him just 10 minutes to pack his stuff out of the office.

The Marine Technology Society also wrote a letter expressing unanimous concern about OceanGate’s experimental approach in March 2019, two months after Lochridge raised his fears. And they asked the company to invest in safety standards validated by a third-party.

But, Stockton Rush, OceanGate’s CEO, was more interested in profit over safety measures. As he pointed out in an interview last year, in his own view “at some point, safety is just pure waste.” Rush’s supposed boldness has been glorified by some people (including socialists!), without seeing its focus on making money.

Further delay in running with the Titan project was costing the company a loss in profit. As far back as 2016, the company had received money from some people for the project (which was called Cyclops 2 at the time) that was then slated to start in 2018, but had to be put off after encountering technical difficulties while testing the vessel in the Bahamas. These included a couple, Marc and Sharon Hagle, who paid $210,258 to be one of the first set of people on the cruise, which kept being postponed. They dragged Rush to court in February this year, alleging fraudulent inducement. 

We should not be tricked by acts that have the potential to commodify the commons, on land, in the ocean or in space, because it appears drabbed in garb of furthering scientific knowledge in any way. The disparity between how the rich and powerful treated the fate of these two vessels highlights the plight of the working poor under capitalism.

Even some leading liberals have had to acknowledge the social injustice this disparity shows. President Obama highlighted the hypocrisy of the West, calling it an “untenable situation” and “rotten.” Similarly, Judith Sunderland of the Europe and Central Asia division of the Human Rights Watch said “The willingness to allow certain people to die while every effort is made to save others” is a “really dark reflection on humanity.”

The lives of poor migrants matter as much as those of the super-rich. We must draw inspiration from the Greek anti-racist group Keerfa, which organised a demonstration against the Greek authorities in solidarity with the drowned migrants. It is not for us to mourn the deaths of a handful of well-fed billionaire tourists in the ocean’s belly or celebrate the wreckage of a Titanic display of wealth from a century back. We must unite and fight the system, laws and regulations which throw millions of poor people into the dangerous quest of migration that has led over 27,000 people to their untimely deaths in the Mediterranean Sea over the last nine years. 

by Baba AYE

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