- The company that owns the rights to the Titanic is lobbing new allegations against OceanGate.
- RMS Titanic Inc. said it let Paul-Henri Nargeolet use the sub because of now-disputed safety claims.
- Legal counsel to OceanGate rejected that characterization in comments to Insider.
The world’s preeminent authority on the Titanic shipwreck was permitted to join the ill-fated Titan dive on OceanGate’s false promises of top-tier safety, a new legal filing alleges.
Paul-Henri Nargeolet, a 77-year-old French submersible expert who is also a Titanic historian, was one of five passengers who died when the submersible imploded after disappearing during a dive to the century-old shipwreck last month.
Nargeolet spent two decades working with RMS Titanic Inc. — the company that owns the sole rights to the Titanic wreckage — and participated in and led dozens of dives to the shipwreck, including several previous trips in the Titan.
In a document filed in federal court on Saturday, the RMS Titanic said it “approved” Nargeolet’s participation in the doomed Titan expedition because of a 2021 OceanGate letter that touted the Titan’s top-tier construction.
But David Concannon, the author of the letter who is on OceanGate’s counsel, rejected the filing’s claims in comments to Insider this week.
“PH told me directly in 2021 and 2022 that he was on the Ocean Gate Expeditions on his own accord,” Concannon said in an email to Insider, referring to Nargeolet by his nickname. “He was not there as a representative of any other company, nor did he require permission from anyone to participate.”
The RMS Titanic Inc. filing said Nargeolet was on the Titan as a guest, not as a representative of the company. The filing said that RMS Titanic Inc. “has never” endorsed tourist dives to the shipwreck but that company gave Nargeolet a “dispensation” from the policy to participate in the exhibitions because he was the company’s full-time director of underwater research.
RMS Titanic Inc. did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The suggestion that Nargeolet, who spent three summers as an expert on OceanGate’s Titan expeditions following the 2021 letter, would have had to rely on a legal letter to determine whether the sub was safe is “ridiculous,” Concannon said.
Concannon also said it was Nargeolet who convinced him of the vessel’s safety — not the other way around.
“PH was one of the four or five most knowledgeable experts about deep sea submersibles in the world,” Concannon said. “I spent more than three weeks at sea with him in 2021 and 2022. I watched him assess the safety of the sub every day.”
Nargeolet told the journalist David Pogue during a 2022 OceanGate expedition that he was satisfied with the Titan’s safety features.
Concannon, who has gone on previous expeditions to the Titanic shipwreck, made headlines last month when he said in a Facebook post that had since been made private that he made a last-minute decision to back out of the $250,000 expedition to deal with “another urgent client matter.”
The Saturday legal filing from RMS Titanic Inc. cites a May 2021 letter that Concannon filed on behalf of OceanGate to inform a federal district judge in Virginia of the company’s upcoming tourist dives. The letter was also filed to assure the court that OceanGate had no intention of disturbing the shipwreck or infringing on RMS Titanic Inc.’s rights to the wreckage.
The letter mentioned the Titan’s “engineering evaluation work performed by the Boeing Company under contract to OceanGate” alongside the “detailed engineering and development work under a Company issued $5 million contract to the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory.”
It was OceanGate’s full-throated support of its submersible — and Concannon’s representations that Boeing and the University of Washington were involved in its creation — that convinced RMS Titanic to “approve” Nargeolet’s participation on the expedition, the legal filing said, “believing Titan was properly designed and developed.”
OceanGate media materials and its late CEO, Stockton Rush, publicly and frequently touted the Titan’s apparent ties to Boeing as an “industry partner” that gave “design and engineering support” over the years.
But in the aftermath of the Titan’s disastrous end, Boeing and the University of Washington denied partnering with OceanGate on the sub’s development and downplayed their relationship with the ill-fated company.
“Boeing was not a partner on the Titan and did not design or build it,” a company representative told Insider last month.
The University of Washington, meanwhile, said it had previously worked with OceanGate on another submersible but had parted ways before the Titan’s creation, CNN reported.
“It now appears that certain entities, including Boeing and the University of Washington are disputing the representations Mr. Concannon made in the letter he filed with the court,” the RMS filing said.
Concannon said OceanGate made those representations “over and over” again.
“The information was provided to me by OceanGate, and I had no reason to disbelieve it,” he told Insider, emphasizing that Boeing and UW had not disputed what he personally said, as the RMS Titanic said in its filing, but instead were rejecting the company line that OceanGate frequently espoused.
Boeing and the University of Washington did not immediately respond to requests for updated comments.
Concannon, who said he had known Nargeolet for 25 years, called the French historian the “most qualified” person to make safety representations to RMS Titanic because of his years of experience and close ties to OceanGate.
“If Wernher von Braun told you he believed the Saturn V rocket was safe to take you to the moon, would you question his expertise?” he said, referring to the chief architect of NASA’s Saturn V launch vehicle.
Correction: July 12, 2023 — This story has been corrected to clarify that David Concannon changed the privacy settings on his Facebook post about backing out of the Titan trip. A previous version erroneously said the post had been deleted.