Who Pays When Expensive Trips Go Wrong? -Titan Submersible’s Case
Rabbi Harold Kushner, who recently passed away, is best known for his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, but he also authored the less well-known When All You Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough. The second book did not perform as well as the first, but this week, in the wake of the Ocean Gate tragedy, which claimed the lives of five people trying to see the Titanic wreckage 12,000 feet under the North Atlantic, the title came to mind.
The opportunity to descend to those depths in order to view a ship that sank more than a century ago provided a mutually beneficial situation for two forces.
First off, the Ocean Gate company made the correct assumption that there are extremely wealthy individuals who enjoy adventure and have the means to pay a significant sum of money to push the boundaries of human technology and endurance.
Second, there are people in the world who, to use slang, “have everything,” including health, wealth, and the means to carry out their wildest dreams. Many people also want to experience things that are out of reach for the majority of people in the world.
The tragic dive of the Ocean Gate submersible on June 18 best exemplified the meeting of these two circumstances by offering a potentially dangerous experience that had been the subject of numerous earlier safety warnings from respected deep dive specialists.
All of that is now known, as well as the fact that from Sunday to Thursday, June 18–22, a veritable multi-national “unified command” of ships, aircraft, deep sea diving gear, and personnel from the governments of the United States, Canada, France, and Britain spent countless hundreds of millions of dollars in a search and rescue operation that, from the beginning, had zero chance of finding the passengers of the submersible alive.
No one is arguing right now that this effort was unnecessary. Since human lives were on the line, the search had to go on as long as there was still some hope that the oxygen supply on board the craft might still be adequate to support life. It is a given that.
Who pays for the Titan submersible’s search and rescue mission, as well as other super-rich trips?
But looking back, who is now responsible for covering the costs of the search operation? In essence, the four involved governments, which means that the cost is borne by the people of those countries through their taxes. Although the odds of a catastrophic event were undoubtedly infinitely higher than the risks we all take every day when we leave our homes to engage with the outside world, those governments and their citizens did not knowingly agree to cover such costs in the event that something went wrong.
Is there a solution for this kind of situation in the future? To my mind, there is.
If businesses like Ocean Gate, SpaceX, or Virgin Galactic—which charge the super wealthy exorbitant sums for their thrills—want to engage in this type of activity, they should share some of the financial burdens for the costs associated with any ensuing search and rescue efforts.
In other words, such businesses should be required to sign a pre-disaster agreement, accepting responsibility for the costs for potential future costs, in order to obtain a license to operate that kind of business. Along with that, they should be required to post a surety bond for a sizeable sum of money, and their marketing materials should state that they are a business whose customers face the possibility of dying in a catastrophic event.
I have no doubt that making this a government requirement would make business owners reconsider engaging in this kind of activity and would cause customers to think twice before they fork over a quarter of a million dollars for the “privilege” of putting their lives and the lives of their loved ones in danger.
I remember the advice of American General George S. Patton for those for whom everything they had was insufficient: “Take calculated risks. That is not the same as acting hastily.
Sadly, those who died did not learn this lesson. May the memories of them be for good.