A remotely operated vehicle capable of winching the stricken submersible Titan out of the Atlantic has been blocked from joining the rescue mission by the US government, the Telegraph understands.
A team from deepwater specialists Magellan Limited has been waiting to leave an airport in the Channel Islands since 7pm on Monday but approval for take-off has yet to be received.
The Guernsey-based firm produced the first full-sized digital scan of the Titanic last summer, the largest underwater project of its kind as two submarines put together 700,000 images of the wreck.
Bretton Hunchak, former president of RMS Titanic, Inc, which collaborated with Magellan, says the company has essential equipment and expertise to help locate OceanGate’s Titan submersible that went missing on a dive to the wreck of the luxury passenger liner which sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in April 1912.
But despite receiving apparent clearance from the Ministry of Defence to leave UK airspace, the American government has allegedly yet to authorise the team’s request to join rescuers 435 miles south of St John’s, Newfoundland.
Mr Hunchak said US officials have indicated they would prefer to use a New York-based vessel capable of exploring 3,000m below water, whereas Magellan’s can plunge depths of up to 5,000m.
He added Magellan’s remotely operated vehicle was unique in that it was likely the only asset available to have a winch capable of dragging submersibles from the depths of the ocean, while it can also detect signals and send them above the surface.
Mr Hunchak said the desperate situation was “painful” to him as he described Paul-Henry Nargeolet, a Frenchman reported to be among those on the submersible, as a “personal mentor”.
He told the Telegraph: “We have British, French and US citizens on board and every minute here counts. This is not a rational decision, this is the only asset we have with a winch and the guys are experts in this area.
“Why not run both vessels? The more help we can get the better and denying us means you are giving up on every option you have to save lives.”
“These are irreplaceable human beings.”
Mr Hunchak said he was hopeful the seven-strong team would be able to fly out to join the mission later on Tuesday.
His pleas have been echoed by David Concannon, an adviser to OceanGate.
Mr Concannon told NewsNation: “They are the same group, the experts, that did the advanced survey of the Titanic last year.
“They are mobilised. They’re sitting on the tarmac, ready to go. We have a ship off Newfoundland that is ready to take them to the site.
“We have people whose lives are at stake. You have to move. We have assets that are ready to go and they’re sitting and waiting.”
Meanwhile, Brandon Williams, the Republican congressman and former Navy officer has called for the US to deploy a nuclear submarine to search for the missing watercraft.
“I have 500 days at sea on a submarine, so my heart really goes out to the missing crewmen and their families. The United States Navy needs to step up and do everything possible to help locate that submarine as quickly as possible,” he tweeted.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Defence said it was on hand to help the mission but it emerged Nato’s submarine rescue system (NSRS) will not be able to reach the stricken vessel.
An NSRS submersible can operate at depths of up to 610m, while the Titanic wreck is much deeper at 3,800m.
A spokesperson said: “As the host nation for NATO’s multinational submarine rescue capability, we continue to monitor the incident in the North Atlantic and will guide and assist in any response activity as appropriate.”
A rescue mission involving the US Coast Guard and an aircraft that can detect underwater vessels took place on Monday as rescuers raced to reach the group before their oxygen supplies were exhausted.
The submersible has 96 hours of oxygen, and rescuers warned that it could take up to two days to reach the ocean floor if the craft had sunk there.
The OceanGate Expeditions tour group, which takes explorers to the depths of the Atlantic for $250,000 (£195,000) per person, is believed to have lost contact when the vessel was directly above the Titanic wreck.
Published: 2023-06-20 09:59:07