As reserve oxygen supplies are on the brink of running out, the cryptocurrency community is placing bets on whether the missing Titanic submersible will be found by Friday, June 23 — and the odds are stacked against it.
A search and rescue mission has been underway since Monday to find the five members onboard a deep-sea submersible, operated by OceanGate Expeditions, that lost contact over 1,000m underwater on its way to visit the sunken Titanic shipwreck. The wreck, located 3,800m on the sea floor far in the Atlantic Ocean, is infamous for strong ocean currents that have hindered search efforts, which currently span 10,000 sq miles.
As media attention has boomed, worrying information has surfaced that has cast doubt on the sub’s integrity — including reports that a senior executive was fired for raising serious safety concerns over the experimental sub’s hull construction as far back as 2018. What’s more, OceanGate was sent a letter by the Marine Technology Society that year, warning that “the current ‘experimental’ approach adopted by OceanGate… could result in negative outcomes (from minor to catastrophic).”
The Titan’s hull is made from carbon fibre — a material that, while incredibly strong, is untested for deep sea vessels. Its tubular shape also contradicts the norm for vessels placed under the extreme pressures of the deep sea. Spheres are usually adopted for such vessels, as it allows for pressure to be equally distributed.
The company’s former director of machine operations, David Lochridge, says he was wrongfully terminated for identifying numerous issues with the vessel’s construction, including its glass viewport. According to the company that made it, its safety has only been certified for use up to 1,300m underwater.
- OceanGate’s Titan sub is manoeuvred with a Logitech gaming controller.
- The five missing members include the company’s CEO, Stockton Rush, as well as a member of the first expedition to visit the Titanic back in 1987, Paul-Henry Nargeolet, and two British billionaires.
- The youngest member onboard is just 19 years old.
What’s more, OceanGate never had the Titan sub certified, or ‘classed,’ by marine organizations such as the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), the DNV, or Lloyd’s Register. A certified deep-sea vessel must meet certain standards of strength and safety and involves routine reviews of construction design and rigorous testing.
As justification for its decision to not seek out certification, the company said in a blog post that Titan’s design didn’t conform with industry practice but that “innovation often falls outside of the existing industry paradigm.”
Crypto bros bearish on missing sub rescue
The missing Titan sub is equipped with 96 hours of reserve oxygen in the case of an emergency scenario such as the one it currently finds itself in. However, at press time, oxygen levels are thought to be minutes away from running out.
Polymarket, a platform that lets crypto traders bet on current events, is hosting a wager on whether the vessel will be found by June 23, 11:59:59 PM ET. The event is currently the site’s most popular, with $95,000 in volume and $105,000 in liquidity.
At press time, betting that Titan will be found in time is 8 cents; a ‘no’ is 94 cents. In simple terms, the market believes that Titan has a scant 8% chance of being found in time.
According to the wager, “the vessel need not have been rescued or physically recovered to be considered ‘found.’ If pieces are located, but not the cabin which contains the vessel’s passengers, that will not suffice for this market to resolve to ‘Yes.’”
The wager’s cut off falls well after the reserve oxygen will have been depleted. According to experts, the members onboard the missing Titan sub are highly experienced in deep-sea exploration and will know how to immediately take measures to preserve oxygen. This includes staying calm. By now, the crew is likely to experience hypothermia, which also significantly slows down breathing.
Crypto wagers on missing Titan sub raise ethical concerns
Despite more and more search and rescue ships arriving to aid in the effort, it appears that the market is quickly losing faith in the mission’s success. But amid concerns of hypothermia and carbon dioxide poisoning, friends and family of the missing crew, along with the hundreds rushing to their aid, remain optimistic.
Dr Rob Larter of the British Antarctic Survey told the BBC that “although it’s a desperate situation, there’s hope, and you have to stay optimistic for as long as possible.”
It goes without saying that betting and cashing out on the potential demise of five people experiencing an unfathomable traumatic event raises moral and ethical dilemmas. Event-based betting platforms such as Polymarket could do far more to remove sensitive wagers — but for now, it appears that the cryptocurrency industry is positioning itself to capitalize on the missing Titan sub.
Update June 22, 14:27 UTC: A previous version of this article stated the submersive is maneuvered with an Xbox controller instead of a Logitech controller.