Claims the Titanic was secretly switched with a sister ship are unfounded
CLAIM: The Titanic did not sink. It was switched with one of its sister ships, the Olympic, before it set sail.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Irrefutable evidence exists to prove the Titanic is lying at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean, and maritime historians agree it would have been impossible for the Titanic and the Olympic to have been switched.
THE FACTS: More than 110 years after the ill-fated luxury steamship sank off Newfoundland after hitting an iceberg, killing about 1,500 people on its maiden voyage, social media users are resurrecting decades-old conspiracy theories to suggest the two ships were switched.
The motives used to support these unfounded claims vary. For example, some say the supposed switch occurred as part of an insurance fraud scheme. Others posit that the tragedy was intended to kill three powerful businessmen who were allegedly opposed to the creation of a central banking system in the U.S., now known as the Federal Reserve.
An Instagram video sharing a version of these claims had more than 58,000 likes as of Friday, while a TikTok video had approximately 12 million views and about 1.8 million likes.
But maritime historians told The Associated Press that switching the RMS Titanic and the RMS Olympic would not have been possible. “There’s a mountain of evidence against this switch conspiracy,” said J. Kent Layton, who has published multiple books about the Titanic.
One key piece of evidence can be found in the construction of the ships. Each had a distinct construction identification number, also known as a yard number, that appeared on many of their parts, including their wood paneling. It is well documented that the Olympic’s yard number was 400, while the Titanic’s was 401. Multiple artifacts bearing the number 401 have been raised from Titanic and items auctioned off after the Olympic was retired in 1935 feature the number 400.
“Every scrap of paneling, which took months to install in each of those two ships, would have had to have been taken off both ships and switched in just a couple of days, which makes no sense,” Layton said.
Mark Chirnside, another maritime historian who has written about the Titanic, pointed out that the Olympic and the Titanic were both surveyed by British authorities to ensure they met certain standards.
“The surveyors that went over them made the most detailed notes, write down to the last rivet, about repairs or maintenance that needed doing,” he said. “You simply couldn’t pass off one ship as another.”
Speculation that the Olympic, which was damaged in a 1911 collision with the HMS Hawke, a British warship, was sunk in place of the Titanic as part of an insurance fraud scheme to build an entirely new boat with the Titanic’s policy also doesn’t hold up, in part because the Titanic wasn’t insured for its full construction value. The ship cost $7.5 million to build, but was insured only for $5 million, meaning that its sinking was a financial loss.
The murderous claim that the Titanic was sunk to kill three powerful men opposed to the creation of the Federal Reserve — Benjamin Guggenheim, Isidor Straus and John Jacob Astor — also has no foundation. Straus spoke favorably of the central banking system on multiple occasions and there is no known public record of Guggenheim or Astor’s views on the matter. Plus, there would have been no guarantee that all three men would have died.
Regardless, experts say, the sheer number of people it would have taken to pull off a switch of the Olympic and the Titanic adds to its implausibility, especially because the most likely place for the switch to occur would have been in the easily viewable Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland. Both ships were built there and the Olympic went back for repairs after its collision with the Hawke.
“It was really open air, there were hills around the shipyard where people could see if they were doing that kind of work to the ships,” Layton explained. “Just ordinary people that lived in the Belfast area would have been able to see. We also know there were visitors to the shipyard and press who took photos of the ships during that stay. They weren’t being kept out of the shipyard like there was something super secret going on.”
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.