Search icon


25th Jun 2023

Boris Johnson slammed for ‘ridiculous’ Daily Mail column saying sub disaster ‘fills me with pride’

Steve Hopkins

‘This was not ‘pushing out the frontiers of human knowledge’ – except in the sense we now know how not to build a submersible’

Boris Johnson has been slammed for suggesting the £195,000-a-ticket tourist trip to see the Titanic wreck that cost five lives “was so important”.

Writing in the Daily Mail on Saturday, the disgraced former PM suggested that those aboard the Titan submersible had died “pushing out the frontiers of human knowledge and experience — that is typically British, and that fills me with pride.”

The column was branded “ridiculous” with the trip considered by some as a reckless gamble of lives, in the backdrop of nmerous reports since of longstanding safety concerns surrounding the OceanGate vessel.

“This was not, ‘pushing out the frontiers of human knowledge’, expect in the sense we now know how not to build a submersible,” professor Colin Talbot wrote on Twitter.

While another person on Twitter suggested Johnson – who was recently found to have “knowingly misled” parliament over partygate – was right in suggesting doing “risky things” leads to “human innovation” another said a distinction needed to be made between “extreme tourism and people innovating for the betterment of humanity.”

Communications were lost with the Titan one hour and 45 minutes after it set off on Sunday, sparking a race against time to find the 21-foot-long vessel that had just 96-hours of emergency oxygen and limited rations on board (although some have suggested the tragic outcome was known Monday).

The US Coast Guard announced Thursday that debris had been found on the seabed, 1,600 feet (488 meters) from the bow of the Titanic, leaving experts to determine “a catastrophic implosion of the vehicle” that has claimed the lives of everyone on board: British billionaire Hamish Harding, 58, OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, 61, French navy veteran Paul-Henri Nargeolet, 77, and Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his son Suleman, 19, who was “terrified” but went along as a Father’s Day gift.

Johnson said now that it has been confirmed “that all five brave souls” are dead the “moralising begins”.  

He said the sinking of the Titanic on 15 April 1912 still “so obsesses human beings that they are willing to risk their lives to go and see the wreck” and is the “most gripping story since the Tower of Babel”.

“We see the tragedy of it all — and we see the ironies. They went to meditate on human mortality, and added to the Titanic toll ­themselves. They went to ­spectate at this desolate exhibit of the ­vanity of human wishes — and tragically proved the point,” Johnson wrote.

He continued: “I know there will be many who will say that Harding and his ­fellow adventurers were foolish, and that we need regulation against such experimental technology.

“Even before the news of the implosion, the Leftie Twittersphere was awash with criticism: that these people had more money than sense, and that we should not be wasting huge quantities of taxpayer cash trying to rescue them. We were told we should not be expending such emotional energy on a few members of the plutocratic elite when so many more have just lost their lives in the Mediterranean, where a boat full of migrants capsized.”

Johnson spoke of his own experiences underwater. He went diving in 1988, “down those great sheer coral cliffs off Sharm El Sheikh”, going down 33 metres: “I looked up from the dark blue gloom and saw the distant sunlight playing on the surface, and I thought — I really don’t want this kit to fail now. I knew I would drown.”

Comparing that to the Titan voyage, Johnson wrote: “So I can hardly imagine the guts it takes to go almost 4,000 metres down, in a craft so seemingly frail, where there is no light at all, and no way of even knowing where you are.”

He opined: “The reason so few people have done it is because it takes such nerve; and it is precisely because the market is so small, and ­undeveloped, and populated only by risk-hungry billionaires, that the machines are still a bit ­experimental. Unless and until we master this form of navigation, humanity will continue to live in ignorance.”

Johnson wrote that “we are more ignorant of the subaquatic landscape of the Earth than we are of the surface of Mars”, and that it is important to look to see if this “undersea world is full of riches”.

“That is why this mission was so important, and should be valued by Left-wingers as well as ­everyone else,” Johnson concluded.

“Yes, there were risks, and warnings. But every great advance must inevitably involve ­experiment, and equipment that can seem, in retrospect, ­dangerously inadequate. Look at the slide rules and graph paper with which the first ­astronauts calculated their ­position in space. Look at those first flying machines — weird ­contraptions of leather and canvas and wood. They were lethal — and yet no one tried to regulate them. The whole idea was new.”

Johnson said billionaire passenger, Hamish Harding, and his “fellows were trying to take a new step for humanity, to popularise undersea travel, to democratise the ocean floor. They knew the dangers.”

He then quoted Captain Scott, just before he died from the Antarctic cold: “We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint…”

Johnson added: “Harding and his friends died in a cause — pushing out the frontiers of human knowledge and experience — that is typically British, and that fills me with pride.”

Related links:

How the Titanic sub might have imploded and what happened to the passengers inside

James Cameron found out Titanic sub had imploded on Monday

Discovery Channel explorer refused seat on Titanic sub due to ‘safety concerns’

Student on board Titanic sub was ‘terrified’ about the trip and only agreed to go as a Father’s Day gift

Doctor describes hell Titanic submarine passengers are going through

Gaming controller used to pilot lost Titanic submarine has received hundreds of negative reviews online

Loose Women star Janet Street-Porter calls missing Titanic explorers ‘selfish billionaires’