OceanGate co-founder defends company after Titanic submersible implosion

The co-founder of OceanGate Expeditions, which owned the submersible that imploded during a dive to the Titanic wreck, defended on Friday the chief executive's commitment to safety and risk management after he died with four others on the craft.

Guillermo Söhnlein, who co-founded OceanGate with Stockton Rush in 2009, left the company in 2013, retaining a minority stake. Rush was piloting the Titan submersible on the trip that began on Sunday. Debris from the vessel was found on Thursday.

"Stockton was one of the most astute risk managers I'd ever met. He was very risk-averse. He was very keenly aware of the risks of operating in the deep ocean environment, and he was very committed to safety," Söhnlein told Reuters.

Questions about Titan's safety were raised in 2018 during a symposium of submersible industry experts and in a lawsuit by OceanGate's former head of marine operations, which was settled later that year. This incident has prompted further debate.

"I believe that every innovation that he took ... was geared toward two goals: One, expanding humanity's ability to explore the deep ocean. And secondly, to do it as safely as possible," he said in video interview from his home in Barcelona.

Söhnlein said he completely trusted Rush, even though they did not always see "eye-to-eye on things".

OceanGate has not addressed queries by industry experts about its decision to forgo certification from industry third parties such as the American Bureau of Shipping or the European company DNV.

"There's this tendency in the community to equate classification with safety. While that could be the case, it doesn't mean that you can't be safe without classification," he said, adding that people should wait for an official report analyzing the incident rather than speculate.

"There's going to be a time for (making assessments), and I don't think right now is the right time to do that," he said.

Despite the tragedy, he said continuing with deep-sea exploration was vital for humanity and that it was the best way to honor those who died in the submersible.

"Let's figure out what went wrong, learn some lessons and let's get down there again," he said.