The family of Hamish Harding, a British billionaire who went missing on the Titan submersible and is presumed dead, is outraged following an underwater themed ball held by Harding’s alma mater, Pembroke College at Cambridge University.
The May Ball is held every two years at Pembroke College and is open to all Cambridge University students and their guests. The theme of this year’s ball was called “Nautilus: Into The Depths”, in a reference to Jules Verne’s classic science fiction novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
Photos from the ball posted on social media showed an assortment of submarine and underwater themed decorations, and attendees were entertained by nautical themed music - including Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”, the theme song of the movie Titanic.
The Titan submersible, which was on an expedition to visit the wreckage of Titanic, went missing on June 18. At the time of the May Ball on June 21, authorities said the passengers onboard the Titan had only hours of air left if the sub was still intact.
Attendees of the ball paid £175 per ticket and the festivities went on until 5 A.M, according to the Cambridge Tab, Cambridge University’s student-run news site. The May Ball website has since been taken down and their Instagram has been made private.
The Tab interviewed students who attended about their experience and several acknowledged the unfortunate timing of having an underwater themed ball with submarine decor while a submersible was missing.
Many of the students were unaware that one of the missing passengers was a Pembroke College alum and said they wished they had known beforehand.
“There was a painful irony in the missing submarine at the same time as the ‘into the depths’ theme,” one student is quoted as saying to the Tab. Another called the news “unsettling” and said “it has really cast a shadow over the night for me.”
The organizers of the event defended their decision to go through with the party, saying that they could not change anything as the theme had been chosen months ago.
“We are aware of the worrying news about Pembroke alumnus Hamish Harding. Today’s May Ball theme was chosen many months ago and if we could change it now, we would," the May Ball committee said in an official statement.
“All we can say is that we sincerely hope that Mr. Harding and the others on board the submarine will be found safe and well. Our thoughts go out to the Harding family at this very difficult time.”
Presented without comment: this year's SUBMARINE THEMED Pembroke May Ball In honour of...Wait for it...The actual submarine guy, who is now at the bottom of the ocean pic.twitter.com/xlqwABBC5J— Sam Bidwell (@sam_bidwell) June 21, 2023
Harding's family speaks out
Harding’s cousin, Kathleen Cosnett, criticized students for attending and said the event was in “extremely bad taste.”
“That’s terrible – polite courtesy has missed out on quite a few generations,” Cosnett told the Telegraph.
“Ridiculous. They would have had a record of him studying there, I would have thought,” she said. They ought to think more than twice, and show consideration. Perhaps we are lucky they didn’t play Yellow Submarine. But perhaps they are not old enough for that.”
Cosnett also blamed OceanGate, the company which operated Titan, for taking too long to alert authorities and begin a rescue search.
"It’s very frightening,” she said in her interview to the Telegraph. “It took so long for them to get going to rescue them, it’s far too long. I would have thought three hours would be the bare minimum.”
Debris from the submersible was found on Thursday and experts believe that the sub was destroyed in a catastrophic implosion. While no bodies have been recovered, all five passengers including Hamish Harding have officially been pronounced dead by the US Coast Guard.