Titanic . . . the ship we can't forget, 100 years on
Almost 100 years on, the Titanic disaster still tugs at the heartstrings.
The events of that dramatic night in April 1912 are well known but constant retelling of the tale only seems to add more lustre to the legend.
The hosting of 100th anniversary events in 2012 will introduce a new generation to the Titanic story in a similar way that interest was renewed by James Cameron's Oscar-winning film in 1997.
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Cameron was on to a good thing, as the Titanic story had everything – heroism and human failings, courage and cowardice, horror and hubris. Over the years, the story has refused to go away. Could better design have saved the ship, could more lives have been saved if the vessel Californian had assisted, why were some of the lifeboats pulling away only half-full?
What is certain is that around 1,500 people were to lose their lives when the 46,000-tonne Titanic struck an iceberg on its maiden passenger voyage and sank in the Atlantic.
What made the news so shocking was that the vessel was considered unsinkable. Built in Belfast by the shipbuilding company Harland and Wolff, Titanic was carrying the great and the good as well as many less well-off travellers in steerage who were seeking a new life in America.
With Captain Edward Smith in charge, the vessel carried more than 2,200 people, including more than 300 in first-class. The "nobs" included White Star Line managing director Joseph Bruce Ismay and Molly Brown, a Colorado woman whose survival was to provide her with the fame she craved.
Among the children on board was two-month-old Millvina Dean from Southampton, who was to live until 2009 to become the last survivor of the sinking.
Over-confidence had led to the Titanic carrying only around 20 lifeboats, enough for about 1,170 people.
Having set sail on April 10, 1912, the Titanic had received the first of many ice reports on April 12 and by the night of the sinking these had become numerous.
At around 11.40pm, two lookouts in the crow's nest reported an iceberg dead ahead. Trying to avoid the iceberg, the ship struck it a glancing blow. Almost at once the first five watertight compartments were breached. SOS messages were sent and rockets were fired.
The nearest ship to the Titanic was the Californian, about 19 miles away and captained by Stanley Lord. But his radio operator had turned off his radio and the vessel ignored the rockets being fired from the Titanic.
It was left to another ship, the Carpathian, to come to the Titanic's aid, manoeuvring around icebergs to get to the scene.
But by the time the Carpathian had arrived, the Titanic had sunk. Many of those that died perished in the water from the cold but a dog is said to have survived after swimming for three hours.
There were extraordinary stories. The band did play pretty much to the end, although their final number was believed to be the tune Autumn rather than the hymn Nearer My God to Me.
Ismay did take to a lifeboat. But there was no suggestion he pulled rank ahead of other men or that he dressed as a woman.
Molly Brown – forever after known by the nickname "unsinkable" – heroically helped with the rowing on her lifeboat. A couple called Straus were determined not to be parted and died together rather than agree to let Mrs Straus take to a lifeboat.
Once the 700 survivors reached safety, the recriminations – and speculations – began. There were official inquiries. They ruled Captain Lord should have assisted, while Captain Smith should have slowed down because of the ice.
Lord's role in the affair has proved to be the subject of debate ever since, as has the question of the provision of binoculars for the look-outs and the ship's design.
Some have said Captain Smith should have rammed the iceberg head on – an action which would have caused considerable damage but may have prevented a sinking.
Some good did come from the tragedy as regulations for safety at sea were tightened.
Thankfully, there has not been a disaster at sea of the magnitude of the Titanic tragedy since.