The company that owns the submersible lost during an expedition to the wreckage of the Titanic received a nearly $450,000 Paycheck Prevention Program (PPP) loan during the COVID-19 pandemic. The loan was later forgiven.
The missing sub has dominated headlines throughout the week. On Thursday, news broke that rescuers had found a debris field and portions of the vessel. The company said that all five men aboard are believed dead. OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush is among those who perished.
OceanGate, which owns the Titan, has come under tremendous scrutiny throughout the search and subsequent loss of lives.
Some of the criticisms have been fair; others less so. The most damning critique, which may have cost the men their lives, was that it lacked various safety precautions. Given that reports state the sub was lost due to a catastrophic implosion, the concerns over safety appear to have been reasonable.
OceanGate was founded in 2009 by Rush, who hoped his submersibles would get contracts to find oil and gas deep in the ocean after he ran out of rich customers. (A trip to the Titanic cost $250,000 apiece.)
Rush’s wealth (a report says he came from family money, though estimates vary) and the high price the company charges for expeditions didn’t stop it from seeking and receiving a PPP loan in 2020. Records maintained by ProPublica show that OceanGate was approved for a forgivable $450,000 loan—less than the cost of two passengers on the Titan—on April 20, 2020, weeks after the loan program launched.
According to those records, the loan was later forgiven, converting it essentially into a grant.
PPP loans have been heavily criticized since the earliest days of the program. Many took issue with extremely wealthy individuals and corporations receiving government subsidies that could total in the millions, which for some recipients represented a small fraction of their net worth.
Multiple attempts to access OceanGate’s website returned error notices on Thursday. It is possible that the company deleted the site.
According to an archive of the site, Rush oversaw its engineering and financial strategies.
A piece in GeekWire said that OceanGate was using the stoppage in business during the COVID-19 pandemic to improve its submersible’s hull, after deep water tests found it to not be sturdy enough.