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Disasters at Sea

Disasters at Sea

  • Premiered: 
    January 13, 2019
    (Click date to see TV listings for that day)

  • Network: Smithsonian
  • Category: Series
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Type: Live Action
  • Concept: 
    2nd series in DISASTERS franchise, following Air Disasters 
  • Subject Matter:
  • Tags: disaster, ship/boat

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Plot Synopsis

Using interviews, documentary footage and dramatic re-enactments, DISASTERS AT SEA is a one-hour documentary series that takes viewers aboard ship to witness the human drama of disasters, and then follows the investigation to piece together the causes of some of the most significant maritime incidents of the last 50 years. When men and women lose their lives on ships at sea, what little evidence remains must be examined carefully to explain what went wrong and why.

In the series opener, "Trapped in Typhoon Alley," the Derbyshire is en route from Canada to Japan carrying nearly 160,000 tons of iron ore when it hits Typhoon Orchid. The ship's last radio call to shore reports they are going to wait out the storm, but it's the last time anyone hears from the crew. When they fail to reach their destination, a massive search operation is launched but turns up no debris from the ship and no sign of any survivors. The first report suggests the crew is to blame for the shipwreck, but the families of the dead refuse to believe it and launch an intensive quest for answers. What the investigation uncovers not only clears the crew of blame, it also reveals a shocking problem that continues to put other lives at risk. Subsequent episodes in Season 1 feature stories about: the SS Marine Electric, which sank in a storm off the coast of Virginia in February 1983, only 30 miles off shore; the largest rock discharge carrier in the world, MV Rocknes, capsizes off the coast of Norway in January 2004; the MV Explorer, which sank in Antarctica in February 2007, stranding 144 passengers and crew in inflatable rafts to face the sub-arctic temperatures of the South Pole; the Alaska Ranger flooded in March 2008, forcing the crew to abandon ship into the frigid waters off the coast of Alaska; and the MSC Napoli, which had a violent crack tear her apart in January 2017, leaving the crew stranded in the English Channel.

The sophomore season of DISASTERS AT SEA premiered on Sunday, January 5, 2020 at 9pm ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel. Season 2 continues to follow investigators as they uncover shocking revelations behind maritime disasters, and send Remotely Operated Vehicles equipped with cameras to the bottom of the sea floor to recover a ship's black box -- the Voyage Data Recorder -- in order to piece together what happened. In the season opener, "Storm Watch," Containership SS El Faro is halfway into its run from Jacksonville, Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico, carrying 12,000 tons of cargo. The massive 790-foot vessel is built for rough weather, but it's about to meet its match in the form of Category 3 hurricane Joaquin. After the 33-person crew loses a battle against 115-MPH winds and 26-foot swells, the U.S. Coast Guard and NTSB join forces to find out why the ship sailed straight towards the eye of the storm.

Season 3 of DISASTERS AT SEA had its U.S. premiere on Sunday, January 3, 2021 at 8pm ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel. In the season opener, "Snapped in Two," a a massive bulk carrier snaps in two and sinks into the North Atlantic, investigators rush to find the cause before a similar disaster happens again.
On Sunday, February 14, 2021 at 8pm ET/PT, Smithsonian Channel aired "Towed Under," the Season 3 finale of DISASTERS AT SEA. A tugboat vanishes in a thick fog on Scotland's notorious River Clyde, leading to an investigation that will shock the maritime industry.

Production & Distribution

  • Produced by Exploration Production