• OceanGate is a private research and ocean tourism company founded by CEO Stockton Rush.
  • The company has attracted renewed scrutiny since its submersible vessel, Titan, went missing Sunday.
  • The five passengers in the vessel, including Rush, were embarking on a Titanic tour.

The search is on for a submersible vessel containing five passengers that was destined for the Titanic ship wreckage before it went missing on Sunday. The vessel at the center of the search mission, called the Titan, is from OceanGate Expeditions, a private research and ocean adventure tourism company. 

As of Wednesday, the vessel hasn’t been located, but the five passengers on board have been identified, including Stockton Rush — the OceanGate CEO and founder behind the ocean tourism company.

What is OceanGate?

OceanGate was founded in 2009, with a focus on “increasing access to the deep ocean through innovation of the next generation of crewed submersibles and launch platforms,” according to the company’s website. The private company is based out of Everett, Washington, and had 47 employees as of April, and has raised a total of $36.81 million in funding, according to data from Pitchbook.

Along with the Titanic expedition tour, the company offers weekly research opportunities to explore the ocean and observe marine life.

Its CEO and founder Rush, who was identified as one of the passengers aboard the missing vessel, has repeatedly stressed a need for balancing safety measures with risk — a point that has gained renewed scrutiny since the vessel went missing. 

Rush, 61, grew up in a wealthy family and originally dreamed of becoming an astronaut, The Smithsonian Magazine reported in 2019. As a student at Princeton University, he told the publication that he juggled his studies in aerospace engineering and work as a commercial pilot.

Rush had a stint working as a flight test engineer for McDonnell Douglas Corporation, before going on to earn a masters in business from the University of California, The Seattle Times reported. Then Rush’s plans changed: Rush, who long enjoyed scuba diving, wanted to explore the ocean, The Smithsonian reported. 

In an interview with CBS reporter David Pogue in November of last year, Rush said that “You know, at some point, safety is just pure waste. I mean, if you just want to be safe, don’t get out of bed, don’t get in your car, don’t do anything. At some point, you’re going to take some risk, and it really is a risk-reward question.” 

The company has also dodged safety rules by operating its exhibitions in international waters, experts previously told Insider. In 2019, OceanGate also said its Titan submersible was not checked to verify the vessel met industry standards, because of its “innovation” and that some of the designs could take years to approve.

In 2018, OceanGate faced a lawsuit from former employee David Lochridge, who said he warned about quality and safety issues related to the Titan vessel. The lawsuit filing claimed that “paying passengers would not be aware, and would not be informed, of this experimental design, the lack of non-destructive testing of the hull, or that hazardous flammable materials were being used within the submersible.” In November 2018, an out-of-court settlement was reached.

The Titanic shipwreck expeditions

OceanGate has been conducting expeditions of the Titanic ship wreckage since 2021, according to the company’s website. These tours can take five people, one pilot and four crew members, in a submersible vessel down to depths of around 13,000 feet into the ocean, according to the website. The tour has also been reported to cost $250,000 per person. 

The Titanic tour, which happens annually, runs 10 days in total and starts out near the city of St. John’s in Newfoundland, where passengers then embark on 8 days of travel at sea, according to the company’s website. 

CBS News reporter David Pogue, who previously reported on OceanGate and spent time aboard a Titanic tour, told CBS on Tuesday that the Titan is one of the only vessels in the world capable of reaching the depth of the shipwreck. Over the last three summers, OceanGate has conducted about 25 trips down to the wreckage, Pogue said in the interview. 

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for OceanGate told Insider the company was “unable to provide any additional information at this time.”

What is the OceanGate Titan?

The OceanGate submersible used on these Titanic expeditions, called the Titan, is also distinctly different from a submarine: a submersible is launched into the water from a separate ship, does not have a power port, and is smaller than a submarine. 

The submersible is also steered with a video game controller, similar to some US Navy submarine designs that use Xbox 360 controllers. While the design may initially raise some eyebrows, the game controller can make submersibles more reliable, Harvard marine scientist Peter Girguis told Insider.

To go on the trip, crew members need to sign waivers that clearly outline the risks of death. A former passenger on OceanGate’s Titan, Mike Reiss told the BBC that “As I was getting onto the sub, that was my thought: ‘Well, this could be the end.'”

“So nobody who’s in this situation was caught off guard,” Reiss, who went on an OceanGate’s trip in 2022, told the BBC. “You all know what you are getting into.”