London: Nearly a century after the sinking of the Titanic, a new study claims that an officer in charge on the bridge could have prevented the tragedy had he acted timely on a warning seconds before the ship struck an iceberg.

Had First Officer William Murdoch taken action immediately, the liner – and 1,496 lives – might well have been saved, the Sunday Telegraph on Sunday quoted a new study as saying.

When the officer in charge of the ship on the fateful night was warned that an iceberg had been spotted in its path, he waited a crucial half-minute before changing course, it said.

The finding comes from major new study to coincide with the centenary of the Titanic disaster next year. After setting sail for New York City on April 10, 1912 with 2,223 people on board, the Titanic hit an iceberg four days into the crossing.

Investigators have reappraised the original 1912 Wreck Commission inquiry in the light of all the research and evidence that has emerged since.

The new conclusion overturns the verdict of the original inquiry, which found that Murdoch steered away immediately but could not avert catastrophe because the iceberg had been spotted too late.

Researchers now believe the reason Murdoch hesitated before giving the order "hard a starboard" was that he thought the Titanic might be able to pass safely by the hazard, and that by altering direction he might increase the risk to the ship by swinging its stern towards the obstacle.

According to the 1912 inquiry findings, the iceberg was sighted about 1,500ft ahead of the ship in North Atlantic Ocean and the collision followed 37 seconds later.

It found that the ship's course was altered "almost instantaneously" after the lookout rang a bell three times –the warning to signify an obstacle straight ahead – and telephoned the bridge below to say an iceberg had been spotted.

Until now, this has been the accepted version of events.

However, the latest research establishes an exact timeline of the seconds before the collision, which reveals the iceberg was spotted when 2,000ft off – almost a minute before the impact – and that the ship held its course for around half of that time.

The researchers base this on the testimony of two individuals: Frederick Fleet, the lookout who sounded the alarm, and Robert Hichens, the sailor who was holding the steering wheel.

They also considered the witness statement of a third sailor, Albert Olliver, who described leaving his post when he first heard the bells and reaching the bridge just as the ship struck the iceberg.

Analysis of his route shows it would have taken him around 60 seconds, the report said.

Samuel Halpern, a US Titanic expert who has led the research, said: "If the First Officer had reacted sooner – maybe even 15 seconds sooner – the ship would have missed.

"I believe it was a delay so he could see whether the ship was going to miss the iceberg without the need for turning. It was a judgment call. And he misjudged," Halpern was quoted as saying.

"I don't think we can blame him. The First Officer was correct in trying to ascertain whether the ship was going to miss the iceberg by itself, which would have been the best approach, as [steering away] could have meant it hit further back," Halpern said.

The researchers found that Murdoch had been involved in a similar incident on another ship, the Arabic, which narrowly missed another vessel in 1903 after he correctly decided to maintain course, rather than turn away.

The study is also supported by technical data – not fully available at the time – into the turning capacity of the ship, which established that it had been steering away from the iceberg for about 20 seconds before the collision.

Murdoch died in the sinking. The testimonies of the other seamen were available to the investigators of 1912, but some of what they said was ignored, the report said.

(Agencies)