Thursday April 20, 2017

$140K Titanic submarine tours off Newfoundland coast 'not a luxury trip'

OceanGate's expeditions will mark the first visit to The Titanic's wreckage in more than a decade.

OceanGate's expeditions will mark the first visit to The Titanic's wreckage in more than a decade. (NOAA/Institute for Exploration/University of Rhode Island )

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Starting next year, a private American company will begin offering submarine tours of The Titanic wreckage off the coast of Newfoundland for $140,000 a pop.

But despite the hefty price tag, OceanGate Expeditions CEO Stockton Rush says people should not sign up expecting a vacation.

"It's not a luxury trip. They're not going to be treated like they might when they go to a five-star resort," Rush told As It Happens host Carol Off. "It's very much being part of the crew and doing something to advance the knowledge about The Titanic."

In fact, these wealthy tourists β€” or  "mission specialists," as OceanGate calls them β€”  are basically there to fund what OceanGate says are scientific expeditions aimed at generating a 3D model of the UNESCO Underwater Heritage site before it's lost forever to the passage of time.

OceanGate has already booked 54 passengers, enough to cover the entirety of 2018 and the first two weeks of 2019. They've screened every applicant, Rush says, and even rejected a few.

"Some people have come to us and it's quite clear they want a luxury yacht and it's a very nice offshore supply vehicle that we're using, but it's not a luxury by any stretch," he said.

So what does a mission specialist do?

"You would meet up in St. John's on a Thursday night. On Friday, you would go through helicopter underwater egress training," he said. "You actually get in a helicopter fuselage and are dropped into a pool and you learn how to get out of that."

The next day you're off to OceanGate's offshore supply vehicle at the site of the April 1912 shipwreck.

Titanic Map

The so-called 'mission specialists' will head to the Titanic site by helicopter from St. John's, N.L. (OceanGate )

The mission specialists will then take turns visiting the wreckage in OceanGate's Cyclops 2, a five-person submarine, which Rush says is "sort of like a Suburban without the seats in it."

They will be the first people in more than a decade to visit the historic wreckage, which was first discovered in 1985.

"​The days that people are not diving, they're topside supporting, recharging batteries, assembling data and doing other tasks," Rush said.

Cyclops 2

Five people can travel 4,000 metres below sea level in the Cyclops 2, says OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush. (OceanGate)

While the expedition will be hard work, Rush says it will be worth it for the adventure of a lifetime.

"You can see not just the wreck, but then there is a whole colony of biology that has assembled. So when shipwrecks go down, they will become artificial reefs, so we will see all kinds of deep-sea marine biology that are quite amazing, sort of very space-like creatures," he said.

"In the debris field, there's a lot of personal effects that have been scanned before and then we can maybe go and find new remnants because there's a lot of history that went down with The Titanic."

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The 1,500,000 luxury White Star liner Titanic, which which sank on its maiden voyage to America in 1912, seen here on trials in Belfast Lough. (Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

The remains of the 1,500 people who died when the luxury liner crashed into an iceberg on its maiden voyage are long gone, but Rush says the crew will still treat the wreckage as a grave site.

"We're not going to touch anything. We're not going take anything," he said. "We plan to treat it like we would Normandy or Gettysburg or any other place where a lot of people died."