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The Titan submersible. Alamy Stock Photo
7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: A year after the Titan sub disaster, leaked details show the failings that caused it

Settle down in a comfy chair with some of the week’s best longreads.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked some of the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. Inside OceanGate

230623-washington-d-c-june-23-2023-this-file-photo-released-by-shows-the-titan-submersible-the-u-s-coast-guard-announced-on-thursday-that-a-debris-field-found-by-searchers-near-the-titanic The Titan submersible. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

If you’re still fascinated by the OceanGate Titan Submersible disaster, Mark Harris shares details from leaked emails, documents and photographs which illustrate how Stockton Rush cut corners in his quest to reach the Titanic. 

(WIRED, approx 27 mins reading time)

Titan reached a similar depth again in April, with a crew of four including Rush. While OceanGate touted the dive as history-making proof of its submersible’s bona fides, even Rush was getting worried about loud noises the hull was making at depth. Then on June 7, three weeks before Titan’s maiden voyage to the Titanic, an OceanGate pilot inspecting the interior with a flashlight noticed a crack in the hull. He sent Rush an email warning that the crack was “pretty serious.” A detailed internal report later showed that at least 11 square feet of carbon fiber had delaminated—meaning the bonds between layers had separated.

This time, Rush couldn’t ignore the data. The hull that was meant to last for 10,000 dives to the Titanic had made fewer than 50—and only three to 4,000 meters. It would have to be scrapped, and the Titanic missions would be delayed for yet another year. When Rush shared the news with GeekWire a few days later, however, he blamed the delay on legal complications with Titan’s support vessel. It’s true that OceanGate ran into issues with maritime law, says one former employee: “The lie is that it was not the reason we delayed.”

2. Murky waters

If you’ve been paying any attention to the UK general election, you might have noticed that river pollution and water quality is something that is often brought up to politicians. 

Hettie O’Brien has spoken to people who used to work for the Environment Agency, a so-called watchdog. They told her that the agency has been gutted by the government over the years. But why?

(The Guardian, approx 7 mins reading time)

The new guidance encouraged regulators to treat fines and prosecutions as a last resort. “With water companies, with big business, you can see a trajectory downwards over the past 10 years, where we’ve developed a soft touch,” said an Environment Agency source who now works in water regulation. Meanwhile, funding for environmental protection was cut by 80% between 2010 and 2021, meaning that the agency now has far fewer resources to investigate companies that might be breaking the rules. Of its many thousands of staff, just 91 people are qualified to inspect the plants where sewage is treated. “I think the cuts were also a way of silencing the EA,” said a retired staff member who worked on policy issues. “It was a way of saying: get back in your box. There was a realisation that it is expensive to have a high-quality environment.”

These reforms and cuts meant that the Environment Agency found itself in an impossible position, torn between irreconcilable objectives. It was supposed to penalise environmental crimes, but it had also been told to prioritise economic growth. It was responsible for ensuring companies weren’t polluting rivers, but it had also been encouraged to let those companies police themselves. These changes seemed to be driven by something more insidious than fiscal discipline.

3. The Khadijah Project

a-woman-wearing-a-burka-walks-down-a-street-in-kabul-afghanistan-tuesday-nov-16-2021-ap-photopetros-giannakouris A woman walking down a street in Kabul, Afghanistan (file photo) Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Nearly three years after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, women there face more challenges than ever under the Taliban. Lynzy Billing writes about the shelters that support and provide refuge for women in the country. But the funding is running out. 

(ELLE, approx mins reading time)

The staff take the time to ensure the girls feel comfortable in her new living situation, calling them daily and visiting them once a week, Razia says, to bring them food, pay their rent, and often deliver school books and other materials for their children. Most of the women who come to The Khadijah Project are single women without a male chaperone (or mahram). “Living in Afghanistan without a mahram is very difficult,” Razia says. “In the minds of the Taliban, these women are incomplete.” Rental contracts need to be in the name of a man, and women are being stopped on the streets when they travel without a chaperone, making it very difficult to seek help privately, particularly if their abuser is a man within their family.

4. Drone police

An investigation into the first drone police programme in the US, and the tug of war between public safety and privacy. 

(WIRED, approx 25 mins reading time)

In Chula Vista, drone flight paths trace a map of the city’s inequality, with poorer residents experiencing far more exposure to the drones’ cameras and rotors than their wealthier counterparts, a WIRED analysis of nearly 10,000 drone flight records from July 2021 to September 2023 found. The drones, often dispatched for serious incidents like reports of armed individuals, are also routinely deployed for minor issues such as shoplifting, vandalism, and loud music. Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, the city even used drones to broadcast public service announcements to homeless encampments.

Despite the police promoting the benefits of the DFR program, residents who encounter the technology day-to-day report feeling constantly watched. Some say they are afraid to spend time in their backyards; they fear that the machines are following them down the street, spying on them while they use the public pool or change their clothes. One resident says that he was so worried that the drones were harassing him that he went to the emergency room for severe depression and exhaustion.

5. Nicola Coughlan

nicola-coughlan-in-bridgerton-2020-directed-by-tom-verica-julie-anne-robinson-and-sheree-folkson-credit-shondaland-album Nicola Coughlan in Bridgerton. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The Derry Girls actress is currently starring in Netflix’s Regency-era period drama Bridgerton. She speaks about the newly-released second half of the latest season here – but be warned, dear readers, there are spoilers ahead. 

(Harper’s Bazaar, approx 13 mins reading time)

“I love that she has that moment to take control of her power and also own all of the things she’s done and go, ‘I am Lady Whistledown. This [scandal sheet] means everything to me, and you all love to read it.’ It was such a beautiful moment for this shy girl to stand in front of everyone and be reckoned with,” says Coughlan, who was “really glad” that, in a departure from Julia Quinn’s romance novels, which the show is based on, Penelope is the one to reveal her secret identity. “And then for Colin to come up to her and be like, ‘That was bloody brilliant,’ it’s such a satisfying way of doing it. I think the way he’s so proud of her is beautiful; you can feel the pride he has in her.”

6. The mayday call

The opioid crisis in the US has made the job of fishing even more dangerous. C.J. Chivers writes about how one man’s death brought about changes for a fleet.

(The New York Times Magazine, approx 34 mins reading time)

If use is down, potency is up. Much of the increased danger is because of fentanyl, which the Drug Enforcement Administration considers 50 times stronger than heroin. Fentanyl suppresses respiration and can kill quickly, challenging the industry’s spirit of self-reliance. When offshore, laboring between heaving seas and endless sky, fishermen cook for themselves, repair damaged equipment themselves and rely on one another for first aid. Everything depends on a few sets of able hands. Barring calamity, there exists no expectation of further help. The ethos — simultaneously celebrated and unsettling — is largely the same over the horizon off the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts, in fisheries bringing billions of pounds of seafood to consumers each year.

When the severity of an ailment or injury is beyond what crews can manage alone, a baked-in math restricts access to trauma care. Fishing vessels routinely operate eight hours or more from land, putting employees in circumstances utterly different from those of most workers in the United States, where response times for E.M.T.s are measured in minutes. The Coast Guard runs a highly regarded search-and-rescue service, but when a vessel’s location is remote or a storm howling, Coast Guard aircraft might require hours to arrive. Urgency does not eliminate distance and weather. A fentanyl overdose can kill in minutes, a timeline no Coast Guard asset can beat.


ulysses-by-james-joyce Ulysses by James Joyce. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

As it’s Bloomsday, here’s Sally Rooney writing about Ulysses. 

(The Paris Review, approx 38 mins reading time)

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that very soon after the publication of Ulysses, critics started to speculate that the novel as a form might be dying. In 1925, the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset wrote of the “decline of the novel,” comparing the genre to a “vast but finite quarry.” “When the quarry is worked out,” he warned, “talent, however great, can achieve nothing.” A few years later, in 1930, Walter Benjamin wrote of the “crisis of the novel.” These two very different works, Ortega’s book and Benjamin’s short essay, both make reference, albeit in passing, to James Joyce. In fact, in T. S. Eliot’s piece in praise of Ulysses, he remarks, “If it is not a novel, that is simply because the novel is a form which will no longer serve,” and later adds that “the novel ended with Flaubert and with James.” In the present day, the “death of the novel” is declared so regularly and with so little provocation that this might not seem to be of any great significance: but I don’t know that the novel was ever declared dead even once before Ulysses was published.

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