Tears can make those who shed them both stronger and kinder. Science and technology, too, have matured by weathering countless tragedies. It was RMS Titanic, the passenger liner that sank 100 years ago in the North Atlantic, that made authorities take a new look at maritime safety.
The double-bottom luxury liner was 270 meters long and touted as “unsinkable.” Its lower hull was divided into 16 compartments. The ship was designed to stay afloat even when two of the 16 compartments were flooded.
However, a collision with an iceberg that would cut the ship horizontally as it passed had not been foreseen.
As it encountered the iceberg, the giant ship steered to portside, but it was the portion of iceberg hidden under the water that doomed the ship. It ripped the starboard side for 90 meters, destroying 40 percent of its watertight bulkheads.
However, since the noise and shock of the collision were limited in upper cabins, some groups of passengers returned to playing cards after surveying the situation on deck.
Two hours and 40 minutes later, the floating hotel sank bow-first into the icy depths. The capacity of lifeboats that no one thought would ever be used was about half of the approximately 2,200 passengers and crew members on board the ship. Only about 700 people survived. Under a starry sky, the windless ocean was mirror-smooth. The water temperature is said to have been below zero.
There were many tragic partings. Women were given priority in evacuation. While nearly all of those in the first class were rescued, half of them in the third class failed to escape. The tragedy left many precious lessons, which led to the formation of such widely recognized maritime rules as requiring ships to carry lifeboats for all passengers and crew members and not differentiating passengers by class in the event of evacuation.
A century from now, how will people be talking about the accident at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant? Will it be passed down as an ordeal that made nuclear power plants safer or an incident that caused humankind to give up nuclear power? Either way, we must not simply write it off as a misfortune. This is a message from Titanic, which lays dormant on the seabed 3,800 meters below the surface.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 17
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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