Historical black and white George Grantham Bain photograph of the RMS Titanic under construction and surrounded by scaffolding.Library of Congress

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Weak rivets used in the construction of the Titanic may have contributed to the sinking of the vessel, according to latest scientific evidence published in Physics World.

The steel and wrought iron fasteners which were used to hold the metal plates of the ship together may have been inserted unevenly. As a result, the compartments easily burst when the ship’s hull filled with water.

For decades experts have speculated about what caused the ship making its maiden voyage to sink with the loss of 1,635 lives.

Explanations have included poor communications, the course taken by the ship, the absence of binoculars in the crow’s nest, and problems with the radio operator.

As part of the research, science writer Dr Richard Corfield examined the chain of events which led to the sinking of the liner on its maiden voyage.

It was shortly before 12pm on Sunday April 14, 1912 when the Belfast built ship bound from Southampton to New York collided with an iceberg and sank within three hours.

“If she had stayed afloat longer, then rescue ships could have got to her and the tragic loss of life mitigated or averted. This is the real question of the Titanic mystery: how could a 46,000 tonne ship sink so quickly?”

According to Dr Corfield, the answer is to be found within the science of the Titanic’s construction and the events that occurred on that fateful voyage.

Dr Corfield references the work of US researchers Tim Foecke and Jennifer Hooper McCarty, who based their research on historical records obtained from the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast.

Foecke and McCarty tested 48 rivets which were recovered from the ship and found they had high levels of slag, caused by smelting, which can make the iron brittle.

Dr Corfield wrote: “Foecke and McCarty found that the rivets that held the mild-steel plates of the Titanic’s hull together were not of uniform composition or quality and had not been inserted in a uniform fashion.

“Specifically, Foecke and McCarty found that the rivets at the front and rear fifths of the Titanic were made only of ‘best’ quality iron, not ‘best-best’, and had been inserted by hand.

“The steel plates of the time may have been inadequate for the task in waters of those temperatures, and the rivets were of inferior quality”

Concluding, Dr Corfield said, “No one thing sent the Titanic to the bottom of the North Atlantic. Rather, the ship was ensnared by a perfect storm of circumstances that conspired her to doom.’