Read the two abridged texts carefully and answer the questions that follow each text. Use your own words throughout as far as possible.

In the early part of the 20th century, there was intense competition between British, American, German and other shipping lines on the profitable1 trans-Atlantic route. This was a time when there was a great expansion of the number of emigrants leaving Europe for the USA. On the return voyage, as many as 100,000 disappointed Britons returned to the UK each year. Shipowners built bigger and bigger liners to try to capture a share of the lucrative market3.

In 1912, the White Star Line Liner, the Titanic left Southampton on her maiden voyage4 to New York via Cherbourg. The ship was twice as big as the largest ship then afloat. Its size was so impressive that one journalist described it as ‘an evil dream’ and ‘monstrous’. The Titanic had a gross tonnage of 46,328 tons. It was 882 feet long, 92 feet wide, and as high as an 11-storey building. It had a double bottom reaching to a height 7 feet above the keel. If water came through the outer hull, it would not get through the second ‘skin’ of the vessel. There were 15 watertight compartments, and the ship would float even if three compartments were breached5. Some people claimed that the liner was ‘practically unsinkable’. When the ship left Southampton it carried a total of 2,227 people: 1,320 passengers and 907 crew. It had twenty lifeboats and rafts—not enough for the full ship’s complement6 but in 1912 it was neither compulsory nor customary for ships to carry enough lifeboats for all the passengers and crew.

The Titanic was expected to cross the Atlantic in five days at a constant speed of 21 knots. On Sunday, 14 April. the liner was more than halfway across and travelling at 21–22 knots (about 25mph) although Captain Edward Smith had received several warnings from other ships of icebergs in the vicinity. A safe speed for sailing through icebergs was 3–4 knots. At 10 p.m., Fred Fleet commenced duty as a lookout in the crow’s nest of the liner. He was disgruntled because the usual binoculars were missing.

Then at about 11.40 p.m., he saw an iceberg dead ahead of the liner. He rang a warning handbell three times and telephoned the bridge, ‘Iceberg right ahead.’ First Officer Murdoch was on duty. He tried to change course to avoid the iceberg but the warning had come too late. The Titanic hit the 500,000-ton iceberg with a noise described by a member of the crew as like ‘tearing a strip of calico.’ The iceberg tore a 300-foot gash in the starboard side of the Titanic, breaching six watertight compartments above the top of the double bottom. Water poured into the huge hole and the ship was doomed.

Ship’s officers sent out white distress rockets while the radio operator frantically dispatched urgent SOS calls. Men on another ships, the Californian, saw the rockets but mistook them for recognition signals. The radio operator on the California went off duty at 11.35 p.m., so he did not receive the SOS calls from the Titanic. The captain of the ship California stopped the ship when he realised there was ice in the water. Then he waited until 5.15 a.m.—the next day before sailing again. His ship was less than 20 miles, and perhaps only 4–5 miles, away from the sinking Titanic.

Meanwhile, lifeboats were launched from the stricken Titanic. It was soon discovered that there were not enough lifeboats. In the confusion, some of them sailed away half empty and made no effort to pick up people struggling in the sea. It was a bitterly cold night and people who jumped into the sea stood little chance of being picked up. Out of a total 2,227 people on the ship, only 705 escaped alive. 1,552 (including Captain Smith) drowned or froze to death in the icy water. At 2.40 a.m., the Titanic finally disappeared head first into water 2 ½ miles deep. At dawn, the Carpathia arrived, having heard the distress calls from a distance of 58 miles. The crew of the Carpathia picked up all the survivors and their lifeboats. The Titanic was not located until late in 1985, when an unmanned search and survey vessel penetrated the darkness and great pressure 2 ½ miles down, and took thousands of photographs of the wreckage.

There were two enquiries into the sinking of the Titanic. The White Star Line was owned by Americans although the Titanic was registered in Britain. The first enquiry criticised Captain Smith for being over-confident and indifferent to danger1. It alleged that the organisation of the escape was haphazard and that a higher proportion of third-class passengers had died because they had not been properly warned of the danger to the stricken ship. The report also pointed out that the lifeboats had inadequate equipment and were badly manned. It also called for improvements in the use of wireless at sea2.

The report of the British inquiry was less harsh4. The speed of the ship was said to be a long-established practice and so Captain Smith should not be blamed. However, a warning was given about the speed of ships which encountered icebergs in the Atlantic thereafter. The accident was said to be the result of exceptional circumstances which might not occur again in a hundred years. Some critics claimed that the British report was mere whitewash5, and that the main aim of the inquiry was to make sure that the Government was not blamed in any way. However, an Irish farmer who had lost a Son in the disaster sued the White Star Line for compensation. A jury found the White Star Line guilty of negligence5. The company appealed but the Court of Appeal upheld the verdict5. The owners of the White Star Line were publicly held to be negligent and had to pay compensation.

As a result of the two inquiries, several important reforms were brought about in Britain, the USA and, in due course, in other countries. Ocean-going ships were in future required to employ properly trained radio operators and to ensure that an operator was on duty at all times. Every ship was required to carry enough lifeboats to provide space for all passengers and members of the crew. The equipment for the lifeboats was considerably improved, as was the method of launching them. Countries using the Atlantic crossing agreed to set up and pay for an Ice Patrol, which kept track of icebergs and continually patrolled the main shipping lanes. This patrol is still in existence today and has averted a number of possible collisions by sending out regular reports of floating ice and icebergs. Improvements in the design of large ships were made. A major one was a regulation requiring builders to raise the bulkheads to a greater height to prevent water from rushing from one compartment to another. For some unknown reason, Captain Smith had not held a lifeboat drill on the Titanic. As a result, the passengers had no idea where the lifeboat was and this created great confusion. A new regulation was introduced to make lifeboat drills compulsory. Ironically, it took the deaths of over 1,500 people to persuade the government and shipowners to make travel by sea much safer.

(adapted from Michael Davies ‘The Titanic’)


1 Which word in the first paragraph echoes the idea of ‘profitable’?

2 Suggest a reason why the Britons were disappointed.

3 What does the word ‘market’ refer to?

4 Explain what a ‘maiden voyage’ is.

5 Suggest one word or phrase which could replace ‘breached’ in this context.

6 What does the word ‘complement’ refer to?

7 What does the writer imply by mentioning the safe speed for sailing through iceberg?

8 At the inquires held after the sinking of the Titanic, why was the caption of the Californian criticised?

9 How long did it take the Titanic to sink? Which part of the ship sank last?

10 In a paragraph of about 160 words, summarise the factors that led to the sinking of the Titanic and to so many deaths.

1 What was the main evidence that Captain Smith was ‘over-confident and indifferent to danger’?

2 The American report ‘called for improvements in the use of wireless at sea.’ What event probably made Americans call for such improvements?

3 What improvement in the use of wireless was introduced after the inquiries?

4 Give one instance from the second extract to support the statement that ‘The report of the British inquiry was less harsh.’

5 Explain the meanings of these expressions in the context.

  • ‘mere whitewash’
  • ‘guilty of negligence’
  • ‘upheld the verdict’


Sample Answers

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