Coal Bunker Fire - The Reality
On New Year’s Day, 2017, a Channel 4 (UK) documentary entitled "Titanic: The New Evidence" was released which proposed that the 'Titanic sank due to enormous uncontrollable fire, not iceberg.' Irish journalist and Titanic author Senan Molony, based the theory on newly discovered photograph of the Titanic which allegedy shows a 30-foot-long black mark along the front right-hand side of the hull, just behind where the ship’s hull was pierced by the iceberg.
It is well known that Titanic had a coal bunker fire, but is there any truth to this conspiracy theory that the fire, and not ice, caused the disaster? There are two serious issues with this 'fire' claim:
'Mark' does not align with the coal bunker
Other photographs of Titanic do not show the 'mark'
Another critical flaw in the documentary is that it does not discuss how no other Titanic photographs - and there are many - of her sea trials and maiden voyage show this same mark. This cannot be dismissed easily; if such a mark existed on the hull as clearly as it does in the Kempster photograph then we must expect to see it in all other photographs of this area. However, there are none.
In fact, it is quite clearly the 'mark' on the photograph is quite likely nothing to do with Titanic at all and is an imperfection caused by a mark on the lens of the camera, or a mark introduced during the developing of the photograph.
"Fire & Ice" - Titanic authors response
After a wave of press and media headlines promoting the 'fire' theory, respected Titanic historians from around the world - Bruce Beveridge, Mark Chirnside, Tad Fitch, Ioannis Georgiou, Steve Hall, J. Kent Layton & Bill Wormstedt - wrote a detailed paper full of diagrams and references and ultimately explaining why the documentary is inaccurate, entitled "Titanic: Fire & Ice". Its conclusions were:
1. The smudge and its location. The inaccurate supposition that the smudge is evidence of damage to the Titanic’s
hull led to the start of an investigation based on bad data. Other photographs do not show any kind of damage.
While it is stated in the show that the coal bunker fire was ‘directly behind’ the smudge, its actual location
was over fifty feet away from it. There is no damage visible near the actual location of the coal bunker fire.
2. The fire. One press account that has known errors is used in the programme to indicate that the fire was never extinguished. This disagrees with testimony given at the inquiries, which state the fire was out by Saturday, April 13 – the day before the iceberg was hit.
3. Financial pressures and substandard ships. This claim does not match the historical record. Examination of letters to and from Harland & Wolff officials and the Board of Trade representatives referred to in the programme show they are not evidence of substitution of lower-quality steel and cutting corners.
4. Withholding information, and the decision to hold to the schedule. The situation was not unusual, considering that coal bunker fires were not entirely unheard of on coal-powered ships. Eyewitness testimony indicates that while a bunker fire was the exception rather than the rule, it was handled in line with typical procedures of the day. Since the fire was not regarded as extremely serious, telling passengers would only have made them nervous. If the fire was serious, there would have been clear evidence available to all aboard.
5. Covering up the fire at the British Inquiry. There is no evidence of a coverup at the British Inquiry. Some of the ‘facts’ stated in this portion are inaccurate. Testimony read during the programme were taken out of context, and do not represent the full extent of the inquiry’s questioning of various eyewitnesses on the matter over the course of multiple days.
6. The fire began to spread – a deteriorating situation. This is inaccurate. Multiple first-hand accounts by survivors said that it was extinguished on Saturday, and had cooled enough so that the bunker could be entered, and black oil rubbed on the ‘dinged’ bulkhead.
7. Titanic was short of coal. Inaccurate. Titanic had a reserve steaming time of up to 1.8 days at 21 knots, and even more at slower speeds.
8. Thomas Andrews believed the ship would survive. Inaccurate. Thomas Andrews told Captain Smith that Titanic was doomed 45 minutes before the rush of water Barrett saw, which the programme said was due to the collapse of the fire-damaged bulkhead.
9. The fire played one final, deadly role in the disaster: the fire-damaged bulkhead gave way, causing the ship to sink, and the enormous loss of life. Since the ship was doomed from the moment of the collision, whether or not the bulkhead collapsed was more or less immaterial to the timing of the disaster. Lives were not lost because it allegedly collapsed early.
10. There was a culture of coverup at the White Star Line, and the whole matter was buried. The claims made in the show on this point have nothing to do with reality. ‘YAMSI’ and other code words were routinely used to route traffic to the correct individuals or departments at White Star Line offices. (Titanic: Fire & Ice, 2017)
To find out the detailed analysis and research that supports each conclusion, please read the article "Fire & Ice" - link below:
The 2017 peer researched article that details the reasons why the 'coal bunker fire' theory is inaccurate. Click on the image to download the original PDF (10MB).
The conclusion of the "Fire & Ice" research article is:
When hard evidence is factored in, there is only one viable conclusion: the coal bunker fire aboard Titanic was not a primary factor in her contact with the iceberg, or in causing her to sink after the she struck the ice. It played no part in the significant loss of life. Although Olympic and Titanic were not perfect ships, and genuine mistakes were made in their operation and navigation that led to the disaster on 14-15 April 1912, the allegations made in the programme are not in harmony with the factual record. (Titanic: Fire & Ice, 2017)