Was the Titanic Switched with Another Ship before It Sank?

We came across the following post from 3 July in a Telegram group with over 146,000 subscribers.

The post claims that the Titanic, which sunk in 1912 in the North Atlantic, is not in fact the Titanic but had been switched with sister ship the Olympic. The post claims that the switch occurred as a result of insurance fraud, and linked to an article from the website Oxford Mail as a reference.

When we looked up the claims, we found that conspiracy theories about the Titanic have long been present. Among the conspiracy theories that have persisted are that a mummy’s curse doomed the Titanic, that J.P. Morgan sank the Titanic to kill his rivals in the financial industry, and that the Titanic never sank because it was switched with the Olympic and then intentionally sunk for insurance fraud. The Telegram post appears to amalgamate the latter two conspiracy theories.

These conspiracy theories are likely to have reemerged as a result of the recent loss of the Titan submersible and its crew, who had been hoping to visit the wreck of the Titanic on the seabed.

In the Oxford Mail article, which was published in 2012, British writer Robin Gardiner gives an interview saying that his new book, The Great Titanic Conspiracy, contains evidence that shows the ship sunk in the North Atlantic in 2012 was the Olympic, for insurance fraud purposes. Gardiner has written several books on the conspiracy that the Titanic never sank, with the first being published in 1995.

Gardiner points to ‘the ship’s specifications’ in eyewitness testimony as ‘evidence’ for his claims. In particular, he suggests that there were promenades where there should have been cabins in witness statements, and some survivors of the sinking ‘described seeing lifeboats being lowered from above’, which would not have been possible given the layout of the Titanic. The image in the Telegram screenshot points out differences in the window layout of the wreck and that of the Titanic.

The motivation, according to Gardiner, was financial. The Olympic had previously been damaged in a collision, and the insurance company would not cover the damage. To avoid the financial loss, Gardiner says the owner, White Star Line—then owned by J.P. Morgan, switched the Olympic’s identity with the Titanic and then planned a ‘small collision’ and the rescue of all passengers by nearby ships. Gardiner says that the tragic loss of about 1,500 passengers and crew was due to a mistake which saw the ship steer away from the nearby rescue ships.

When we looked up the details behind these claims, we found that various elements of them had been debunked on previous occasions by established media outlets such as Reuters and AP News, as well as independent factcheckers. Some of the details Gardiner relies on are factually true: the Titanic did have a sister ship called the Olympic, which had been in a collision and was being repaired at a shipyard in Belfast next to the Titanic a month before the latter’s fateful voyage.

The claims by Gardiner are most clearly addressed by a factcheck on AP News. Experts interviewed as part of the factcheck emphasised that there was irrefutable physical evidence that it was the Titanic that sunk. These include recovered ship parts that display the Titanic’s distinct construction identification number, as well as detailed maintenance notes by surveyors that were unique to each vessel.

Though the Titanic and Olympic were similar in appearance, there were fundamental differences in the construction that would have been noticeable should the Olympic have been modified to look like the Titanic. These modifications would have taken a significant amount of time to implement, and would certainly have been noticed by some of the many people working and living around the busy shipyard in Belfast.

The image in the Telegram post that indicates similarities between the photo of the wreck and the Olympic does show an accurate image of the shipwreck, but it mistakenly describes each ship as the other. The shipwreck image therefore accurately depicts the Titanic, which was wrongly labelled as the Olympic in the image.

Conspiracy theories related to the construction of the ship may have persisted due to a number of photographs of the Titanic that shows it with different configurations of windows and portholes, when construction was still ongoing and changes were being made. Additionally, the Olympic also had some changes in appearance after undergoing modifications sometime after the Titanic was lost.

The conspiracy theories rely on manipulated images while omitting key context as well as the testimony of witnesses who lack credibility. They also fail to address the significant quantity of physical evidence that indicate that it was the Titanic that sank. Despite having been debunked on multiple occasions, these conspiracy theories continue to receive attention when they resurface periodically, accruing over 12 million views and 1.8 million likes when a video of the claims appeared on TikTok in January 2023.

As such, it is false that the Titanic was switched with her sister ship before the ship sank.

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