FOR more than 100 years since the Titanic tragically sank the world has believed it was because of a rogue iceberg – but it has now emerged that the gigantic ocean liner could have been brought down by a fire.

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A journalist, who has spent 30 years researching the disaster, believes that it was fire, not ice, that sealed the liner’s fate.

In a new documentary, Irish journalist and author Senan Molony claims the Titanic’s hull was fatally weakened by a fire that had been smouldering in the coal bunker in the boiler room since she left the shipyard in Belfast.

Molony told the paper: “The official Titanic inquiry branded it [the sinking] as an act of God.

This isn’t a simple story of colliding with an iceberg and sinking. It’s a perfect storm of extraordinary factors coming together: fire, ice and criminal negligence.”

The author suggests dark marks can be seen on the starboard side in a set of photographs that came to light in a private auction recently.

He believes it is evidence of the fire inside and the reason why the most luxurious ocean liner of her day was, unusually, reversed into her berth — presenting the unmarked side to passengers as they boarded.

“Nobody has investigated these marks before or dwelled upon them. It totally changes the narrative,” he said.

“Since 1912, there has been this myth of a 300ft gash that opened the ship up but when the wreckage was examined, people were perplexed because they couldn’t find anything like it.

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“We have experts telling us that when you get that level of temperature against steel it makes it brittle, and reduces its strength by up to 75 per cent. The fire was known about and briefly addressed at the inquiry, but it was played down.

“She should never have been put to sea but the Titanic had already been delayed a couple of times and was committed to leaving on April 10.”

David Hill, former secretary of the British Titanic Society and editor of the society’s journal, the Atlantic Daily Bulletin, said: “There certainly was a fire. It set sail on Wednesday and they didn’t get it out until the Saturday so it must have been a big one. Was it a life-changer? It’s my personal opinion that it didn’t make a difference.

“It just shows that even after all these years this old ship keeps throwing up new things that have us scrambling around. It’s absolutely fascinating.”

Richard De Kerbrech, the author of several books on the Titanic, said the theory could be true.

“We know for certain there was a fire on the ship. Initially I gave it little credence but, looking at [Molony’s] meticulous research, I was surprised by the extent of it. The chairman and designer were aboard so there were a lot of things that were kept quiet,” he told The Times.

A secret fire, Molony claims, would go some way to explaining why the Titanic was going so fast through icy seas.

He added: “The way to deal with the fire [in the bunker] would have been to dig out the coal, and put it in the only other possible place, the furnace, which meant the ship was going at a much higher speed.”