On April 14 1912 the R.M.S Titanic collided with a massive iceberg and sank in less than three hours. At the time more than 2200 passengers and crew were aboard the Titanic for her maiden voyage to the United States. Only 705 survived. According to the builders of the Titanic, even in the worst possible accident at sea, the ship should have stayed afloat for two or three days.
When the Titanic collided with the iceberg the hull steel and the wrought iron rivets failed because of brittle fracture. A type of catastrophic failure in structural materials. Brittle fracture occurs without prior plastic deformation and at extremely high speeds. The causes of brittle fracture include low temperature, high impact loading and high sulphur content. On the night of the Titanic disaster each of these three factors were present and the water temperature was below freezing, the Titanic was travelling at a high speed on impact with the iceberg and the hull steel contained high levels of sulphur. When the iceberg tore through the hull plates, huge holes were created that allowed water to flood the hull of the ship. This caused the failure in rivets and which broke the caulking along the seams and provided another inlet for water to flood the ship.
Along with the material failures, poor design of the watertight compartments in the Titanic’s lower section was a factor in the disaster. The lowest section of the Titanic was divided into sixteen major watertight compartments that could be sealed off if part of the hull was punctured and leaking water. After the collision water began to spill over the adjacent compartments. Although the compartments were called watertight, they were only water tight horizontally.
Along with the changes in ship design that resulted from the Titanic disaster, safety regulations were established to govern passenger ships while at sea. The mandatory use of the wireless, the increased lifeboat capacity and the ice patrol-each of these developed to prevent accidents. Although there was room on deck for twice as many lifeboats, the Titanic carried lifeboats for just over half of the passengers and crew on board. The United States Government began the ice patrol so that ships travelling between England and the United States could be alerted of approaching ice fields.
Following the Titanic disaster, double sided hulls were added to ships to prevent minor hull punctures from causing major damage. The transverse bulkheads of the watertight compartments were raised so that water could not spill over the tops if the sips were pitched at a slight angle. The changes made in ship design and safety regulations following the disaster were effective in decreasing the casualties of accidents at sea. Other lessons need to be learned are because shipbuilding companies have the technology to build something does not mean that they should. In this case the causes for the sinking indicate that shipbuilding technology was far more advanced that the understanding which engineers had of the materials they were using to build the ships.