Titanic Proportions

This weekend near midnight on Saturday, will mark 100 years since the unsinkable ocean liner hit an iceburg on its maiden voyage and sank; which around these parts is a big deal. The magnitude of the event was so great that it resonates 100 years later. This event has entered our popular conciousness as it is common to hear of something that did not go well, that it was a disaster of “titanic proportions”; in a way the sinking of the Titanic has become the standard by which disasters are measured. Have you ever felt that you were “arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” (This line attributed to Rogers Morton in 1976 in the Washington Post, having lost five of the last six primaries as President Ford’s campaign manager “I’m not going to rearrange the furniture on the deck of the Titanic”). The Titanic Disaster would eventually drive the White Star Line out of business as it would later merge with the Cunard where one can still obtain White Star service.

One of the areas in which the Titanic disaster still resonates is in law. On November 12th, 1913 the first International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, more commonly known as SOLAS, was signed, which through revisions in 1929, 1948, 1960, 1974 and 1980, exists to this day as the most significant treaty regulating safety in ocean going vessels and thus ensuring that whether they are near or far, hearts will go on for both kings of the world and paupers alike whilst they are at sea.

In the United States An Act to Regulate Radio Communication was passed in 1912 which mandated continuing monitoring of distress frequencies amongst other measures. Another aspect of this act is that it would lead to the creation of the Federal Communications Commission.

In 1913 the family of a steward on the Titantic sued for compensation in Cheverton v. Oceanic Steam Navigation Co(1913) 6 B.W.C.C. 574 which was then cited in 1934 by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in Wolfe v. Canadian National Railways, [1934] 3 W.W.R. 497,

“In this latter case the deceased, a steward on the SS. “Titanic,” was drowned when that ship went down. He had been in the habit of contributing about $$18 a year to the support of a crippled sister. His average earnings were $$2 9s. a week. The County Court Judge awarded $300 compensation. The Court of Appeal held that, there being no reason to doubt that the Judge had made the award in the exercise of his judicial discretion, and there being nothing to show that he had misdirected himself, the award must stand.”

In 2001 in British Columbia a compass from the Titantic was at issue. To further illustrate the Titanic in our popular conciousness the Titanic was used in a significant Tort case concerning the “but for” test in 2004 at UKHL Chester v. Afshar, [2004] UKHL 41, where in dissent , Lord Bingham stated at para 8 “But for your negligent misdelivery of my luggage, I should not have had to defer my passage to New York and embark on SS Titanic”.

So give pause for a moment on Saturday night and think of the 1500+ lives that were lost and the legacy of the disaster which still affects us today.


  1. So to follow-up, the Cunard Line which absorbed the White Star Line was then itself eventually absorbed by the Carnival line and nearly 100 years to the day of the Titanic sinking a Carnival line ship is accused of leaving fishermen adrift at sea with full knowledge that they were adrift: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/worldview/drifting-fishermen-die-after-luxury-cruise-liner-sails-past-but-doesnt-stop/article2407401/

    Quite a circle.