Titanic as structurally sound as an Ikea desk, apparently

Well, ninety-six years to the day after the greatest millenial monument to mankind's hubris- aka the RMS Titanic- went to an ignominious and watery grave, we may be a little closer to figuring out why the 'unsinkable' ship proved to be, in fact, spectacularly sinkable.

A few clever sciencey types have analyzed construction records and rivets collected from the wreck. Their conclusion? They totally sucked. Pressures to launch the Titanic, and its two sisters Olympic and Britannic, forced shipbuilders  Harland and Wolff to cheap out on labour and materials. The rivets used in the Titanic's bow section were made of 'best' iron, not superior 'best best' iron. Of course, this also raises some disturbing questions about why anyone who uses a 'best best' scale had any business building ships.

The inferior rivets explain recent findings on the Titanic wreck itself. Marine archaeologists who examined the wreck expected to find a giant, iceberg-shaped gouge in the bow. Instead, they found six 'seams', where the bow plates had popped their rivets and allowed significant quantities of the North Sea to rush in. If the shipbuilders had used 'best best' rivets, or the steel rivets used in the centre section of the Titanic, 1,500 people might not have died.

Harland and Wolff is now in full damage control mode:

For its part, Harland and Wolff, after its long silence, now rejects the charge. “There was nothing wrong with the materials,” Joris Minne, a company spokesman, said last week. Mr. Minne noted that one of the sister ships, the Olympic, sailed without incident for 24 years, until retirement.

An interesting argument, although somewhat moot. The Olympic never, say, ran straight into a giant hunk of ice, making detailed comparison difficult.

Nevertheless, the lessons of the Titanic are clear: when taking a transatlantic journey, insist on better bolts. As they say, when it comes to ships, it's best best or breaststroke.