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Disasters at Sea is a Canadian documentary series that first aired in 2018, centering around real-life shipping disasters. Each episode begins with a reenactment of the disaster, then of the investigation into it, and ending with an explanation of safety measures meant to prevent these disasters from repeating.


Disasters at Sea contains examples of:

  • Abandon Ship: Very frequent. Even if the ship isn't actually sinking, it usually becomes the crew's first priority to get everyone off ASAP so that rescue workers can get to them. The phrase can even be heard in the show's title sequence.
    • It can become all the more notable when this trope doesn't come into effect. One particular example being the Derbyshire, as the question on everyone's minds after she sank was how such an enormous bulk carrier could go down with all hands before the crew could evacuate.
    • An unusual example is the Norman Atlantic, in which case, the bulk of the survivors were those who remained onboard and were picked up by helicopter, as the disorganized crew gave the passengers little assistance in properly launching lifeboats. This resulted in only one lifeboat being launched – without any crew to help them – and several passengers dying of hypothermia in improperly launched life rafts. Additionally, by the time the Norman Atlantic's crew gave the order to abandon ship, the fire had been going on for four hours.
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  • Bungled Suicide: The Assistant Captain of the Andrew J. Barbieri attempts suicide with a pellet gun and drugs over his role in its collision with a maintenance pier.
  • Cutting Corners: Shoddy, cheap, and even simply ignored repairwork is shown to be a contributing factor in the sinking of the Marine Electric, as demonstrated under No OSHA Compliance.
  • Deadly Gas: The ignited gas aboard the Bow Mariner was so suffocating that it was not only a challenge for survivors, but for Coast Guard rescue workers – to the point where one of the rescuers remarked that if the Bow Mariner had been further out to sea, there was a good chance the rescue helicopter's pilots would have been impaired by the fumes and it would have crashed on the way back.
  • Disaster Dominoes:
    • When a ship takes on water in one area, that's likely to weigh the vessel down, allowing water to get into other areas.
      • One example being the sinking of the MV Derbyshire, where water entering a ventilation shaft pulled the bow downward, resulting in water being able to enter Hatch #1, which dipped the bow enough for waves to reach Hatch #2, then Hatch #3, then Hatch #4, and so on, causing the ship to sink in as little as two minutes.
      • The Marine Electric suffered a similar fate to the Derbyshire, not helped by the fact that her hatch covers were shoddily maintained.
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    • The capsizing of the Rocknes is another example. First, the ship's cargo of gravel was improperly loaded, leading it to make the ship list to starboard. Instead of shifting the cargo by hand, which would have taken time, they fill the ballast tanks on one side to crudely level it out. Then, while at sea, the gravel shifts further to starboard, causing the ship to list further. The Rocknes's pilot, wanting to avoid sharp turns with these stability issues, orders the ship to turn too late, and it moves into nearby shallows. Then, a rocky shoreline that hadn't been clearly marked on charts tears open the ship's hull, causing it to capsize within minutes.
  • Everybody Lives: Every now and then – one example being the MV Explorer, which despite sinking in cold Antarctic waters, lost none of her passengers and crew.
  • Green Aesop: One of the concerns when the MSC Napoli started sinking was that she would leak oil into the English Channel, making her a challenge for salvagers.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Downplayed, but implied as a possible contributing factor in the sinking of the Queen of the North, since the ship's Fourth Officer and Quartermaster had previously had an affair. What exactly they were doing when they were alone on the bridge together was never established; of greater importance was what they were not doing, which was making sure the Queen of the North was staying on course and not sailing toward rocky shores…
  • Never My Fault: Marine Transport Lines, the owners of the Marine Electric, tried to pin the blame for her sinking on the crew, saying that she had gone off course and hit rocks when in fact, the company's shoddy maintenance of the vessel was what doomed her.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Rears its head sometimes.
    • One egregious example being the Marine Electric, which – thanks to penny-pinching owners – had hatch covers that were allowed to deteriorate past the point they should have been replaced, and repaired using second-rate materials that were only meant to be used as stopgaps. It got to the point that there were holes in the deck that were simply circled so that no one tripped over them. The owners weren't the only ones to blame for the disaster; the only reason all this went undetected was because inspections from two separate agencies that were supposed to detect problems like this were rushed – conducting them in half an hour when they should have taken days.
    • The Flying Phantom is another example. Her emergency line release system was insufficiently tested, so no one knew that it didn't work fast enough. Additionally, one of the tug's engine room doors was left lashed open, so she capsized much faster.
    • The Bow Mariner's Captain made the decision to clean the ship's tanks while the ship was underway, without flooding them with inert gasses that would have prevented any vapours in the tanks from igniting. This, coupled with the no less ill-advised decision to leave them open longer than was necessary, allowed the deck to be flooded with flammable vapours that only needed one spark to ignite. The ship's owners' lawyers even instructed the crew to not cooperate with accident investigators (they later caved when the Philippine government threatened to not allow them to come home if they didn't talk).
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • The fire control system on the Norman Atlantic had a confusing numbering system that resulted in the crew pumping water to the wrong deck, which only allowed the fire to grow.
    • The shoal that caused the Rocknes to capsize was marked on navigation charts, but in such a way that it was hard to see, and local mariners weren't informed that it was there after it was discovered.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: It's Mayday with ships!
  • Salvage Pirates: When the MSC Napoli wrecked off of southwest England, come of her containers broke off and washed ashore. Crowds of locals flocked to the scene and made off with some of the containers' contents – everything from nappies (which puzzled one investigator because they'd be soggy with seawater) to wine barrels to motorbikes.
  • Sinking Ship Scenario: Frequently the Ship Of The Week sinks, but this is to be expected, given the show's subject matter. However, not all ships featured in the show actually sink (e.g. the Norman Atlantic or the Andrew J. Barbieri).
  • Sole Survivor: Only one of the Flying Phantom's crew survived her capsizing.
  • What a Drag: "Towed Under" demonstrates an unusual variant of this with "girting," which basically happens when the load a tug is pulling violently moves to the tug's side, yanking the smaller boat hard enough to capsize it. In the case of the Flying Phantom, the crew did have a mechanism to cut off the line connecting her to the Red Jasmine, but it turned out to have not worked fast enough to stop the girting.
  • Wrong Assumption: Overconfidence on the part of Captains has been a contributing factor more than once.
    • The Captain of the MV Explorer thought that he was dealing with first-year ice – which he was experienced in contending with from his years operating ships in the Baltic Sea. However, he was inexperienced with the Antarctic Ocean, which has a tendency to create thicker, multi-year ice. One bit of overconfidence later and the Explorer was sinking.
    • Similarly, the Captain of the El Faro may have been operating off of a weather forecast that was six hours old. So when his Second Mate suggested a course change to avoid a hurricane that was rapidly changing direction, the Captain overruled her and ordered the El Faro to maintain its original heading – sending it right into the heart of the hurricane.

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