The sinking of the Titanic is perhaps the most well-known maritime disaster of all time, but a new documentary claims the widely-believed cause — a fatal collision with an iceberg — isn’t entirely true.

In Titanic: The New Evidence, an upcoming hour-long documentary on the Smithsonian Channel, new evidence suggests that it was actually a coal fire which caused the 1912 disaster. Whether viewers are generally intrigued by all things nautical — or fans of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s blockbuster Titanic — the documentary promises to capture their attention with newly-unearthed photos detailing the many shortcomings that contributed to the Titanic’s terrible end at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

The photos, from the private collection of the Titanic’s chief electrical engineer, John Kempster, are said to shed light on the true cause of the sinking — a topic that has been hotly debated over the years — by revealing the use of a range of substandard materials (and cost-cutting, dangerous shortcuts) during the building of the mighty ship. Using CG and colorizing techniques, the filmmakers animated the original stills taken at the shipyard to take viewers aboard and below decks.

The most shocking claim that the documentary presents is that the sinking was actually caused by a coal fire in conjunction with the iceberg. Two critical photos show a 30-foot long black streak, which experts cite as evidence that a fire in a coal bunker below deck caused serious damage, weakening the “unsinkable” ship’s hull in the same region where the iceberg later struck.


Senan Molony, an Irish journalist who has spent more than three decades studying the ship, supports the theory. “It’s a perfect storm of extraordinary factors coming together: fire, ice, and criminal negligence,” Molony says in the documentary, according to the New York Times. “The fire was known about, but it was played down. She should never have been put to sea.”

The documentary also presents claims that the ship’s owners knew about the fire but chose to ignore it to avoid financial ruin.

Titanic: The New Evidence premieres Saturday, Jan. 21 at 8 p.m. ET on the Smithsonian Channel.

  • Movie
  • 194 minutes