Why Did the Captain of the Titanic Ignore the Warnings?

Written by tiffany ross
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Why Did the Captain of the Titanic Ignore the Warnings?
The Titanic struck an iceberg south of Newfoundland, Canada. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

On April 15th, 1912, the RMS Titanic sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean after hitting an iceberg. The captain of the doomed ship, Edward J. Smith, went down with it. The night of the collision with the iceberg, Smith was attending a private party. After receiving several warnings about icebergs from other nearby ships, Smith went to bed and left the ship to its fate. Both the United States and England performed investigations into Smith's conduct, but none of the investigations found evidence of negligence or foul play.

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The Warnings

The first warning about icebergs came from the "Caronia," another passenger ship, on the morning of April 14th. Captain Smith posted the message on the bridge before leading a religious service for the passengers in first class. The second warning came in the afternoon of the 14th from the "Baltic." Smith showed the warning to Joseph Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the White Star Line. In the evening a warning about ice made to another ship was overheard by the crew, and in the late evening, two warnings about icebergs from the "Mesaba" and the "Californian" were ignored by telegraphic operators distracted by personal messages coming in for the passengers.

Edward J. Smith's Last Night

On the evening of April 14th, Captain Smith attended a private dinner party organised by Mr. and Mrs. George Dunton Widener. While the Captain rubbed shoulders with these wealthy diners, the crew overheard the warning from the "Californian." After dinner, the Captain had a conversation with his second officer, Charles Lightoller. But no ones knows what the two discussed and the Captain went to bed without giving orders to change course. He was awakened by a member of his crew after the ship scraped an iceberg. In true maritime fashion, Captain Edward J. Smith sunk with his ship.


A subcommittee of the Committee of Commerce of the United States Senate was formed to investigate the sinking of the Titanic. Hearings began in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York on April 19th, 1912, where 82 witnesses testified that the Captain ignored multiple warnings about icebergs, but no one knew why. Similar investigations were conducted in England, but none of them place the blame on Captain Smith.


No one knows why Captain Smith ignored warnings about dangerous ice. It is possible he felt so secure in the Titanic's sturdy frame and solid operating system that he did not consider the iceberg a threat. It is also possible that his responsibilities to the passengers distracted him from paying heed to the messages. Perhaps the captain gave an order to his second officer to avoid the icebergs before he went to bed and the order was never carried out. Whether Captain's Smith's actions were an act of hubris or bad communication, they resulted in one of the biggest maritime tragedies in history.

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