Did the owners of the RMS Titanic commit insurance fraud?

April 15, 2021

We know what really happened on this day in history: the R.M.S. Titanic—thought to be unsinkable—struck an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912, and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912—109 years ago.

But, have you heard the insurance-fraud conspiracy theory related to the sinking that some people have been known to believe? While there are plenty of holes (pun intended) in this conspiracy, it’s a fascinating tale.

The conspiracy

While the Titanic was still dry-docked and under construction, its sister ship—the Olympic—was sailing from Southampton, England, to New York City in September 1911. During this voyage, the Olympic became damaged on the rear, starboard side.[1]

According to the unlikely conspiracy, since the damage to Olympic was extensive and expensive to repair, the owner of both ships—the White Star Line—swapped the two vessels, so Olympic masqueraded as Titanic during its maiden voyage in 1912. The conspiracy theorists suggest that the ship’s crew were supposed to sink the damaged Olympic during the voyage, so that the White Star Line would be able to collect the insurance money. Nobody was supposed to die as result of the sinking—it was supposed to sink slowly enough that everyone could evacuate in time.

The actual Titanic, is said to have sailed under the Olympic name until 1935 when it was retired.

Debunking this theory

The first hole in this conspiracy is the plan for everyone to evacuate the ship. There was a total of 20 lifeboats aboard the Titanic—designed to accommodate about 1,200 passengers. There were roughly 2,200 passengers aboard the ship. So, even if the ship sank slower, how would everybody evacuate without the promise of another ship coming to their rescue?

Second, Titanic’s construction number was 401, and Olympic’s was 400. When wreckage belonging to the ship itself was pulled from the water, it was properly labeled 401.

But—most importantly—Titanic was underinsured. It was worth $7.5 million (in 1912 dollars), but insured for only $5 million. And, Titanic was insured for less than the value for which Olympic was insured. So, if The White Star Line sank Olympic, but masqueraded it as Titanic, the insurance money the White Star Line allegedly would have received wouldn’t have covered Olympic.

There are myriad conspiracy theories surrounding the sinking of Titanic, but when considering such theories, it’s important to fact-check. The White Star Line intentionally sinking Olympic would be impressive, but when you take a closer look, it’s clear that this would have been nearly impossible.

[1] Sailors refer to the right and left sides of a ship as starboard and port, respectively. Different names were chosen for right and left to avoid confusion because when you turn around aboard ship, the left is on the right and vice versa. A memory trick: The words port and left both have four letters.

Alexandra Chouinard
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Alexandra Chouinard has editing, writing, advertising and publishing experience from her Alma Mater, Loyola University, where she earned a dual Bachelor of Arts Degree in Writing and Communication.

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