Thanks to the blockbuster directed by James Cameron, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, most people know the story of how the RMS Titanic sunk in April 1912, causing the death of 1500 passengers when it was on route to New York from Southampton.

The cause of the disaster has long been attributed to its hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic. However, experts are now claiming that the ship may have sunk due to an enormous fire on board, with numerous items of fresh evidence backing up the theory.

Researchers argue that evidence suggests there was a fire in the ship’s hull which burned unnoticed for almost three weeks leading up to the collision.

The theory of a fire on board had been suggested in the past, but new analysis of rarely seen photographs has prompted researchers to attribute the fire to being the primary cause of the ship’s demise.

Irish journalist Senan Molony, who has spent more than 30 years researching the sinking of the Titanic, studied photographs taken by the ship’s chief electrical engineers before it left Belfast shipyard. He identified 30-foot-long black marks along the front right-hand side of the hull which suggest this area was damaged before the iceberg struck the ship’s lining.

Experts subsequently confirmed the marks were likely to have been caused by a fire started in a three-storey high fuel store behind one of the ship’s boiler rooms. A team of 12 men attempted to put out the flames, but it was too large to control, reaching temperatures of up to 1000 degrees Celsius. Subsequently, when the Titanic struck ice, the steel hull was weak enough for the ship’s lining to be torn open.

Officers on board were reportedly under strict instruction from J Bruce Ismay, president of the company that built the Titanic, not to mention the fire to any of the ship’s 2500 passengers. The ship was even reversed into its berth in Southampton to prevent passengers from seeing damage made to the side of the ship by the ongoing fire.

Maloney presented his research in a Channel 4 documentary, Titanic: The New Evidence, broadcast on New Year’s Day. He describes it as ‘a perfect storm of extraordinary factors coming together: fire, ice and criminal negligence.’