♪ ♪ NARRATOR: March 23, 2021.
The Ever Given, one of the largest container ships ever built... (loud thudding) ...plows into the bank of the Suez Canal.
The only thing that ran through my mind was, "Oh, my God."
JULIANNE CONA: I posted the picture, and my sister's like, "It's all over the news."
NARRATOR: It completely blocks one of the most important shipping lanes in the world for nearly a week, triggering a global emergency.
No one had had a vessel the size of Ever Given run aground in the way Ever Given did.
NARRATOR: Now, eye witnesses speak out for the first time.
CONA: It was life-changing, I think it changed the perspective of a lot of people on board.
NARRATOR: And using clues from former maritime disasters... ROD SULLIVAN: He stayed there to the very last minute to try to save the life of this one seaman.
NARRATOR: New documents, expert analysis, and never-before-seen footage... ERNEST CAPONEGRO: We thought the ship was going to collide with us.
I ordered everybody off the stern.
NARRATOR: We investigate what really happened.
You're dealing with a machine, really, that is one of the largest machines ever created by man.
NARRATOR: Was this a freak accident?
And how can we stop a disaster like this from ever happening again?
SULLIVAN: The Ever Given was a wakeup call to everybody.
And if those ships don't arrive, you can shut down an economy.
If you didn't get the message from the Ever Given, you weren't paying attention.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Right now, on "NOVA"-- "Why Ships Crash."
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ NARRATOR: The Suez Canal-- a 120-mile artery that runs through the heart of Egypt, linking the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.
A shortcut that saves ships thousands of miles, and several weeks of sea time.
(translated): We have 18,000 ships pass through each year.
We are the most important maritime route in the world.
NARRATOR: Hundreds of thousands of containers loaded with critical supplies: fuel, food, and medical equipment depend on this man-made waterway, a narrow strip of water stretching improbably through Egypt's Eastern Desert.
♪ ♪ (water crashing) 10:15 a.m. local time, March 9, 2021.
The container ship Ever Given sets sail from the south coast of China, loaded with more than 700 million dollars' worth of cargo and consumer goods.
Operated by the Evergreen Marine shipping company, it's nearly as long as the Empire State Building is tall, and capable of carrying 20,000 containers, one of the biggest container ships in the world.
It's scheduled to spend the next 23 days sailing halfway around the world to deliver its cargo to ports in Europe.
To get there, it must pass through the series of lakes and narrow channels that make up the Suez Canal.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ The Ever Given arrives at the Southern mouth of the Suez at 6:00 p.m. on the 22nd of March.
(indistinct chatter) Captain Reda Ahmed oversees this section of the Canal.
(translated): I was working as the head of sea traffic in Port Tawfik.
NARRATOR: Reda is a veteran mariner who has worked with the Suez Canal Authority for 26 years.
♪ ♪ He manages a team of local maritime pilots, expert sailors who board every vessel to help guide it through the canal.
In the south, the waterway is too narrow for big ships to pass each other, so Reda organizes the vessels heading north into one-way convoys sailing single file.
(translated): The speed of the ships at the front of the convoy is different to the speed of the ships at the back of the convoy.
CONA: It's slow moving, it's a very long day.
It's the last major obstacle before you're going back across the Atlantic, headed... headed home.
NARRATOR: Julianne Cona is on the ship directly behind the Ever Given, the Maersk Denver.
With eight years' experience, Julianne has sailed the Suez a dozen times before, working as an engineer in the ship's engine room.
Being aboard these vessels, it can be challenging at times.
Things constantly are changing, but you kind of learn to roll with it.
NARRATOR: For the biggest ships, navigating the Suez is a serious challenge.
CONA: You've got land on both sides of you, you've got a ship in front of you and a ship behind you, and the slightest misstep on anybody's part could end in a maritime accident.
NARRATOR: At 7:00 a.m., the Ever Given sets course from the Gulf of Suez to the canal entrance, as part of a convoy of 20 ships.
The Maersk Denver is just ten minutes behind.
CAPONEGRO: I got on watch at midnight and from then on, it was calm, calm, and then the wind started coming.
NARRATOR: Ernie Caponegro has been a licensed officer for six years, sailing cargo ships all over the world.
CAPONEGRO: Wind picked up suddenly from a light breeze to around 20 knots, and it just continued on up from there.
NARRATOR: By the time the Ever Given enters the canal, the wind is gusting at gale force.
That's when it started to become a little more concerning.
NARRATOR: It may seem like a ship as massive as the Ever Given would be unaffected by wind, but its tall sides can act like a sail, pushing it sideways and making it difficult to maintain its position.
♪ ♪ When you have a vessel that's equal to a 15-story building above the waterline, and as long as nearly four football pitches, this is a vessel that, if it is blowing and gusting wind, she is going to move around.
That vessel needed to be dead center in the canal.
There's very little room for margin of error.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Satellite tracking data shows that the northbound convoy makes steady progress.
But the data also reveals something is wrong with the Ever Given.
♪ ♪ At 7:18 a.m., the ship is off the center line, too close to the west bank.
Then, 16 minutes later, it runs dangerously close to the east bank.
At 7:38, it finally loses control.
On the bridge, the crew shout, "We might be grounding-- stand by."
♪ ♪ The bow of the 219,000-ton ship... (loud thudding) ...crashes into the east bank of the Suez Canal.
With the bow of the Ever Given aground, and all steering control lost, the wind and current now pushes the stern right across the canal, until it wedges into the other bank.
The Ever Given is firmly lodged, blocking the entire Suez Canal.
♪ ♪ What caused the accident is a mystery.
♪ ♪ On the Maersk Denver, Ernie and the rest of the crew can't believe their eyes.
♪ ♪ The only thing that ran through my mind was, "Oh, my God."
CONA: Oh crap, I guess I'm not going home.
(laughs) NARRATOR: Ernie and Julianne are now steaming directly towards the Ever Given.
CAPONEGRO: My vessel was weighing 110,000 gross tons.
Stopping that with 35 to 40 knots of wind, plus a two knot following current, not exactly an easy feat.
NARRATOR: The captain of the Maersk Denver reacts fast and throws the engines in reverse.
CONA: It was the first time in my career I'd ever seen a complete full astern bell.
(bell chiming) It's not very often that you're going as fast as you can backwards.
♪ ♪ The ship stops just a few hundred feet before it plows into the Ever Given.
♪ ♪ But the ship directly behind them, the Asia Ruby III, is in serious trouble.
♪ ♪ Something in the back of my head said, "Turn around and look."
And when I turned around, the Asia Ruby III was maybe a football field away.
NARRATOR: This phone footage shows the nearly 70,000-ton ship heading right towards the Maersk Denver.
CAPONEGRO: We thought the ship was going to collide with us.
I ordered everybody off the stern.
NARRATOR: The Denver's captain quickly guns the throttle.
♪ ♪ Their ship slowly moves forwards, away from the Ruby.
They narrowly avoid a catastrophic pile up.
CAPONEGRO: If the ship behind us had hit us, they could have very easily just disabled us, sending the ship barreling towards the Ever Given.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Once safely anchored, the crew can fully grasp the scale of the accident.
CONA: I called my family and my sister's, like, "It's all over the news."
GERMAN NEWS ANCHOR (translated): More and more ships are waiting.
Some captains are even considering taking the 6,000 kilometer detour around Africa.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: The shockwaves from this accident are felt across the globe.
About 12% of world trade passes through the Suez Canal.
Even a short blockage results in delivery delays of crucial food, fuel, and medical supplies.
♪ ♪ The 58 ships queuing up unable to pass through the canal all feel the consequences of this ballooning maritime disaster.
♪ ♪ The Ever Given accident made headlines around the world.
But there are many more that don't.
Each year, there are over 2,500 crashes and shipping incidents.
They damage infrastructure, and cause delays, destroying ships, and putting lives at risk.
MERCOGLIANO: The way world shipping works today is through a system known as just-in-time logistics.
What happens is most factories, most warehouses, don't have enough supplies to last more than a few days.
It requires the daily infusion of new cargo and new supplies coming in.
Most of the time, the public are blissfully unaware of how their goods get to their shops, or how components get to factories.
NARRATOR: Today, the transportation of almost all physical goods, from durable items like furniture, clothes, and computer chips, to perishable goods like vegetables, meat, and medicines, revolves entirely around a single, extraordinary piece of technology...
The shipping container.
♪ ♪ MERCOGLIANO: Prior to the introduction of containerization, cargo was moved in what's referred to as "break bulk."
Basically, you moved individual pieces of cargo-- boxes, cartons, pallets, bales, one at a time.
NARRATOR: This process of moving cargo was labor intensive, and time consuming.
Teams of dock workers would take several days to load and unload even a medium-sized ship.
♪ ♪ In 1956, American truck hauler Malcolm McLean unveiled a time-saving solution.
♪ ♪ What is now called the intermodal shipping container, a strong lockable steel box, specially toughened to withstand the rigors of life at sea.
♪ ♪ It evolved through the '60s, and now containers all across the world come in standard sizes, with standardized attachment points.
♪ ♪ This makes it much faster and cheaper to shuttle goods from truck and train to ship, and back again.
♪ ♪ Today, container ships transport around two billion tons of goods a year.
Their success changed the way we ship goods forever.
The larger a ship, the more efficiently it carries containers.
So container ships grew bigger... and bigger.
Since the 1950s, they've tripled in length.
The latest ships, known as Ultra-Large, are as long as four football fields.
They're pushing at the boundaries of what's possible in terms of where the ships can go and how safe is it to transport things around the world on these megaships.
As ships get bigger, the margin for error gets smaller.
NARRATOR: The Ever Given is one of the biggest container ships in the world.
Its fate now hangs in the balance.
♪ ♪ At the canal control center, Captain Reda makes sure the other ships stuck in the convoy are safely anchored, and then heads straight to the crash site.
(translated): This was the first time in my life that I saw a ship of this size stranded.
NARRATOR: He and his colleagues at the Canal Authority will work to devise a salvage operation to unblock the waterway fast.
There are dozens of ships stacking up behind, with vital supplies on board.
The pressures to free the Ever Given and unblock the canal are immense.
♪ ♪ But the front of the ship is buried nearly 40 feet in the eastern bank, and the stern is stuck fast, too.
♪ ♪ The team dispatch as many tug boats, dredgers, and excavators as they can lay their hands on.
Several tugs, some pushing, others pulling, try to free the ship.
But it simply won't budge.
♪ ♪ No one had had a vessel the size of Ever Given run aground in the way Ever Given did.
NARRATOR: The ship's bow has plowed into the bank of the canal with such force, that it is completely embedded.
The excavators look like toys alongside the vast hull.
36 hours after the crash, excavators and dredging ships are still racing to scoop and suck sand away from the bow.
The operation is extremely risky.
If the Ever Given moves suddenly, its vast bulk could crush anyone working nearby.
After three days of non-stop digging and dredging, the Ever Given remains stuck.
World shipping faces an escalating crisis.
(birds squawking) CONA: Now you have this backup of 20, 40, 60, 80, and before you knew it, hundreds of ships sitting there waiting.
NARRATOR: Every day the canal is blocked, nearly $10 billion worth of vital medical supplies, food, and other goods are on hold.
♪ ♪ Even a short delay creates a huge global problem.
When you create a disruption such as the shutdown of the Suez Canal, that creates a backlog.
All of a sudden that smooth supply has a big kink right in the middle of it.
The problem is, the kink resonates down the entire supply chain.
♪ ♪ Today, the container revolution means that ships carry up to 90% of all global trade goods.
Every day, nearly a thousand vessels must pass through a handful of crucial shipping arteries, including the Panama Canal in Central America, the Strait of Malacca in Asia, the Straits of Gibraltar, the English Channel, and the Suez Canal.
♪ ♪ Here, closure can mean delay, or a major diversion, adding at least ten days and thousands of miles to a ship's route.
CONA: A lot of ships had decided to go down around the Horn of Africa, just because they'd be so far back in the line.
NARRATOR: This blockage will affect many thousands of small and large businesses waiting for goods on the backed-up ships.
♪ ♪ The Ever Given was meant to unload its cargo in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and Felixstowe in the United Kingdom.
From there, the cargo would be transported to dozens of discharge ports, and on to destinations across mainland Europe and Scandinavia.
♪ ♪ But the ripple effects of the backlog of hundreds of ships have a truly global impact.
♪ ♪ The consequences of the blockage are felt from ports in the U.S. to the docks of Africa.
Four days after the Ever Given crashes, satellite data shows hundreds of ships backed up, some in the Gulf of Suez... and others in the Mediterranean at the north end of the canal.
♪ ♪ CONA: The cluster of ships sitting there was crazy to watch.
Hundreds of ships just anchored up around you.
You couldn't look in front of you and not see a ship.
NARRATOR: With the world watching every move, the Canal Authority is under huge pressure to free the Ever Given, fast.
They bring in an international team of salvage experts with more equipment.
Together, they devise a new strategy.
Small tugs will line up to push near the stern of the Ever Given.
Two larger tugs will use tow lines to pull the stern away from the west bank.
Other large tugs will try to pull the bow away from the east bank.
But if they're not careful, there's a real risk that the ship could jerk free too quickly and smash into the other side of the canal.
(ship rumbling) (loud thud) This operation takes advantage of an unusually high tide produced when the moon is full, and at its closest to the earth.
They begin just after midnight on the 29th of March.
This is when the spring tide flows south.
It should help push the Ever Given's stern off the bank.
♪ ♪ At first, it doesn't seem like their plan is working.
Everything hinges on them freeing the ship tonight.
(ship horn blares) (different horn blaring) ♪ ♪ In the early hours of the morning, the stern of the ship slowly inches away from the bank.
(horn blaring) ♪ ♪ That afternoon, at the next high tide, the tugs manage to slowly pull the bow clear, too.
♪ ♪ After six days of digging, pushing, and pulling, the ship is free at last.
(Reda speaking) (translated): The crew and I were so full of joy when the ship was floated that we didn't notice all the tugs surrounding us in celebration.
(people whistling) Everybody just... huge sigh of relief.
CONA: It almost felt like you could breathe again.
Like, okay, we're going home.
RABIE (translated): In the world of salvage operations, it is a miracle for it to have succeeded in such a short time, and for such a big ship.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: The salvage operation is a triumph of cooperation and ingenious engineering.
But the crash has disrupted billions of dollars of world trade in the midst of a global pandemic, when supply lines are already stretched.
(ship horn blares) Investigators urgently need to find out what went wrong.
♪ ♪ But uncovering why the Ever Given crashed won't be straightforward.
MERCOGLIANO: Ever Given herself was operated for Evergreen Marine, a company out of Taiwan.
The owner of the vessel was in Japan.
The insurer for the cargo was in the United Kingdom.
The crew was Indian, the registry was Panamanian, and investigating an accident like this, you would see nearly all those elements involved conducting simultaneous, in some cases, investigations, along with the Egyptian Suez Canal Authority.
NARRATOR: The key question investigators have to answer is why the ship lost control, veering so wildly from one bank to the other.
Early reports mention one thing-- the weather.
CONA: It was exceptionally windy, and usually in windy situations, they evaluate the bigger ships going in and not going in.
NARRATOR: Most ultra-large cargo ships have powerful engines and are surprisingly maneuverable, but strong winds can still pose problems.
To understand the danger wind presents, it's helpful to look at other incidents where ships ran into unexpected difficulties at sea.
♪ ♪ On January 26, 2016, the Modern Express cargo ship, carrying a 3,600-ton load of heavy machinery and logs, was approaching the Bay of Biscay, on route to Le Havre, France.
In Finisterre, on the north coast of Spain, coast guard Manuel Capeáns Álvarez was due to start his shift.
(translated): The wind and rain were battering heavily.
On the days of adverse weather conditions, you always fear that something serious could happen.
NARRATOR: As the Modern Express crossed the Bay of Biscay, strong winds forced the ship off course.
The gale caught the high side of the ship like a sail.
The vessel developed a dangerous 40-degree list.
At 1:16 p.m., the captain sent a distress call.
(Álvarez speaking Spanish) (translated): The crew requested to abandon the ship.
Two rescue helicopters and a rescue plane were deployed.
NARRATOR: The 22 crew members were clinging to the steeply sloping deck, battered by more than 16-foot-high waves.
They feared the ship could capsize at any moment.
(waves roaring) The wildly pitching deck made the helicopter rescue incredibly dangerous.
RESCUER (speaking Spanish): RESCUERS (speaking Spanish): NARRATOR: It took around four hours to haul all crew members to safety one by one.
♪ ♪ No one knows exactly what caused the accident.
But the high sides of the ship and strong winds were almost certainly key factors.
CAPONEGRO: Weather plays with ships all the time.
Doesn't matter whether you're going through the Suez Canal, or you're crossing the Atlantic, it's going to play with it.
NARRATOR: So how did the strong winds affect the Ever Given?
Francesco Morelli is a marine surveyor who has conducted dozens of investigations into major shipping accidents, including in the Suez Canal.
He's analyzed the data from the Ever Given crash.
(Morelli speaking Italian) MORELLI (translated): The first time I heard about the Ever Given, what I read wasn't convincing.
So I decided to use the same technology that we usually use to understand what happened exactly.
NARRATOR: All big ships like the Ever Given are equipped with an Automatic Identification System, or A.I.S.
This uses satellite data and the ship's radio to broadcast the vessel's precise location, heading, and speed every few seconds.
MORELLI (translated): The availability of this data has made it possible to reconstruct this scenario in great detail.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Weather models of the day of the Suez incident show that a 30 to 40 knot wind blasted the Ever Given as it entered the canal.
(speaking Italian) (translated): The ship was hit by the wind on its right side.
This caused the ship to be pushed towards the left bank and away from the center line of the channel.
NARRATOR: For Francesco, even though the ship didn't hit the bank this time, it never really recovered the center line.
♪ ♪ But he's convinced that wind isn't the only factor that caused the crash.
He discovers that the ship ahead of the Ever Given, the Cosco Galaxy, which was almost exactly the same size, forged a smooth passage through the waterway, despite having to battle the same windy conditions.
♪ ♪ Why did one ship sail through the canal safely, and the other crash?
♪ ♪ Francesco overlays the tracking data of the Ever Given and the Cosco Galaxy.
The resulting image lays bare the different paths of the two ships.
As they entered the canal, the wind pushed both ships towards the left bank.
The Ever Given veered particularly close.
Both ships then slightly increased their speed as they approached a bend.
This would have made them more maneuverable-- the more water that rushes past a ship's rudder, the faster it turns.
But halfway through the bend, the Galaxy slowed back down, while the Ever Given sped up.
(Morelli speaking Italian) MORELLI (translated): The difference between the two is that they went through the curve of the canal at different speeds.
The Cosco Galaxy kept a moderate and constant speed.
The Ever Given increased its speed up to nearly 14 knots.
NARRATOR: In strong winds, big ships are often easier to control the faster they go.
But within the confines of the canal, high speeds can cause problems.
(Morelli speaking Italian) MORELLI (translated): When a ship like the Ever Given nears the side of the canal, hydrodynamic effects suck the ship towards the nearest bank.
This is called "bank effect," and the bigger the speed, the bigger the bank effect.
(water rushing) NARRATOR: As the Ever Given moved through the canal, its vast bulk displaced hundreds of thousands of tons of water.
This rushed past the hull, and formed a bow wave at the front.
Francesco believes that as the ship got close to the bank, the bow wave formed a cushion that pushed the bow away.
But further back, as the gap between ship and bank narrowed, the water flowed faster.
When a fluid speeds up, pressure in the fluid drops, which in this case created suction that pulled the stern towards the bank.
Just a small increase in speed leads to a big increase in this so-called bank effect.
Francesco's analysis suggests that the Ever Given's high speed caused it to lurch from experiencing bank effect on one side of the canal, to bank effect on the other, and eventually to crash.
(loud thudding) (Morelli speaking Italian) (translated): The behavior of the ship is similar to a ball bouncing back and forth from one bank to the other.
The speed of the ship increases, and the bank effect becomes stronger.
This is what causes the ship to crash.
NARRATOR: So why did the Ever Given speed up?
Faced with high winds, could the captain have simply made the wrong call, gone too fast and lost control of his vessel?
How do crucial decisions like this get made on the bridge of a ship?
Clues lie in another tragic maritime disaster.
♪ ♪ On September 30, 2015, the cargo ship El Faro, carrying 391 containers, over 100 cars, and 33 crew members was sailing 80 miles from Florida en route to Puerto Rico.
The ship was on a regular route between Jacksonville, Florida, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, and it made that trip back and forth week after week after week.
NARRATOR: Rod Sullivan is a maritime expert and was the lawyer who represented one of the families of the crew on board.
In Jacksonville when they left, and as they went down the east coast of the United States, the weather was beautiful.
There was a light hurricane, Joaquin, force one or force two, out somewhere in the Caribbean.
But at the very time they left, they had no idea that they were going to be sailing directly into it.
NARRATOR: Hurricane Joaquin strengthened, turning into a category four storm with 135 mile-per-hour winds and mountainous seas.
The winds are getting stronger, the waves are getting stronger, and the ship is becoming less and less controllable.
NARRATOR: The captain of the El Faro, Michael Davidson, could have changed course, and taken a longer route that avoided the worst of the weather.
But in the face of the gathering storm, the El Faro did the unthinkable.
It sailed straight into the heart of the hurricane.
SULLIVAN: You're looking at 120 mile per hour winds, which are, are extreme winds.
And you're also looking at high seas, which are going to batter the ship on one side or the other.
It's going to make it very difficult to control the ship.
(waves crashing) NARRATOR: At 7:12 a.m., the captain sent an emergency message.
SULLIVAN: They sent out fixed wing aircraft looking for the location of the sinking.
They sent out vessels and helicopters to attempt to see if there were any people, any survivors, and no survivors were found.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: An extensive search of the seabed uncovered the wreckage of the ship.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: And crucially, its voyage data recorder, the equivalent of a plane's black box.
It held records of the ship's exact location, and audio recordings of all conversations on the bridge in the hours leading up to the disaster.
SULLIVAN: The last moments of this ship are really heart-rending, because all the crew members have gotten onto the railing and are trying to get off the ship.
But there are two people left in the wheelhouse.
There's Captain Davidson, and there's one seaman.
♪ ♪ And as the ship lists farther and farther to one side, the seaman doesn't have the strength to get to the high side of the ship.
To Captain Davidson's credit, he stayed there to the very last minute to try to save the life of this one seaman.
NARRATOR: The audio recordings revealed their final words.
SULLIVAN: I don't have a ladder up here.
I can't extend it down to you.
I don't have a rope to pull you up.
You are going to have to pull yourself up to the side of the ship in order to get out of here.
And the seaman is saying, "Captain, I can't, I can't.
Don't leave me."
And Captain Davidson is saying, "I'm not gonna leave you."
And he doesn't.
NARRATOR: The sinking of the El Faro claimed all 33 sailors' lives.
SULLIVAN: Every family of a seaman knows that they're involved in a dangerous occupation.
Nobody expects that they're going to go out to sea and not come back.
NARRATOR: So why did Captain Davidson sail the El Faro straight into hurricane Joaquin?
Audio recordings reveal confusion about the hurricane's severity and location.
Only minor course adjustments were made.
According to the NTSB report, the captain knew he was sailing into a severe storm and his crew was uncomfortable with his decision.
SULLIVAN: The captain and the chief mate had a discussion about alternate routes very early in the voyage, and the captain considered that and rejected the alternative routes.
Later, at 2:00 in the morning, the second mate, Danielle, actually rang up the captain who was in his cabin asleep and suggested to him that they needed to do something.
And the captain said it didn't feel like it was that bad and he went back to sleep.
(waves crashing) The captain's attitude was one of bravado.
He said, "Look, I travel in the Gulf of Alaska.
"I see weather and waves like this all the time.
"And, therefore, I'm not going to be concerned, and you shouldn't be either."
NARRATOR: The crew may choose to raise concerns, but the captain's decision is always final.
Could this be what happened on the Ever Given?
Did the captain simply make a bad decision that led to the accident?
After freeing the Ever Given, the Canal Authority tows the ship to the appropriately named Great Bitter Lake.
Here, in a further twist, the Egyptian authorities place the ship under arrest.
It can go no further until the Canal Authority and the ship owners conclude negotiations to determine who will pay for the salvage operation.
The Egyptians leveled an initial claim against Ever Given of 916 million U.S. dollars.
(speaking Arabic) (translated): We were negotiating with the owners to get back the losses we incurred at least.
(speaking Arabic) NARRATOR: It is terrible news for those with cargo on board.
The case ends up in the Egyptian courts.
♪ ♪ Here, the ship owners produce transcripts of the audio recordings from the ship's bridge, as well as a detailed timeline and accident report, drawn up by a respected maritime expert.
They say that in the moments leading up to the crash, the maritime pilots, who were on board to guide the Ever Given through the canal, were navigating the vessel.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ To understand events on the Ever Given's bridge, first we need to understand what happens when a maritime pilot boards a ship.
(ship horn blaring) Greg Tylawsky was a San Francisco Bar pilot for ten years and regularly piloted ships the size of the Ever Given.
♪ ♪ In a normal situation, I board the ship, I have an exchange with a master on what the plan for my routing will be.
Once he's comfortable with the plan, or she's comfortable with the plan, and I'm comfortable with the situation on board the vessel, the pilot assumes navigational control of the vessel.
(indistinct chatter) They're going to control the heading, the speed, the direction, and the communication protocols.
NARRATOR: Pilots don't steer the ship themselves; they issue commands to the other officers on the bridge.
To the helmsman, who controls the direction of the ship with the rudder.
NARRATOR: And the bridge watch officer, who controls the speed of the ship with the throttle.
(indistinct chatter) The standard for pilots, really, around the world, is that the commands from pilots are direct to the person who has their hands on the steering wheel, and they're direct to the person that's standing next to the throttle for the main engine.
NARRATOR: Pilots have performed this task for hundreds of years, as they have detailed local knowledge of ports and narrow crossings that the captain, the master of the ship, does not.
But even though the pilot takes charge of navigating the ship, the captain is still responsible for the ship's safety.
(speaking indistinctly) TYLAWSKI: It's the master's duty to intervene at a point where it is obvious that the pilot is in some way incapacitated, or is in some way dangerous to himself or to the vessel.
PEKCAN: The relationship between a pilot and the captain and his team on a ship can be very tricky.
The bridge team will not necessarily have ever met this person before, yet they have to give control of their vessel to him.
NARRATOR: In this scenario, miscommunication can end in disaster, and has in the past.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ On November 7, 2007, the Cosco Busan, a cargo ship loaded with more than 2,500 containers was leaving the San Francisco Bay en route for Busan, South Korea.
As the ship's pilot navigated the vessel towards the Bay Bridge, thick fog covered the water.
TYLAWSKI: On that morning, I recall driving across the Bay Bridge and, looking out, the Port of Oakland was completely immersed in fog.
NARRATOR: At the time, Captain Greg Tylawsky was training to become a San Francisco Bar pilot.
TYLAWSKI: There's a tremendous amount of wind and fog that are prevalent in the area.
You have currents that flow into the bay and out of the bay.
NARRATOR: At 8:30 a.m., disaster struck.
The Cosco Busan crashed into one of the towers of the Bay Bridge, opening a large gash in its hull.
TYLAWSKI: A fellow trainee walked in and he said, "Hey, Greg, did you hear?"
My first question to him was, "Was there any oil in the water?"
He said, "Yes."
NARRATOR: 53,000 gallons of oil from the ship's fuel tanks quickly spread around the Bay Area, eventually contaminating nearly 26 miles of protected coastline.
It killed more than 2,500 birds, disrupted local fishing stocks, and cost $70 million to clean up.
TYLAWSKI: It was a gut punch.
We have such an unbelievable safety record.
Something like this happening really hit everyone very personally.
NARRATOR: An investigation revealed that in the dense fog, and faced with an unfamiliar radar system, the pilot misjudged a crucial turn.
♪ ♪ The report also found that the pilot was taking a number of medications that likely reduced his ability to safely pilot the ship.
He was taking things that would have had a sedative effect.
So I think it's pretty safe to say he would not be processing information effectively.
NARRATOR: But the report also found that the captain was reluctant to assert authority over the pilot, and failed to oversee his performance.
The report also suggested that cultural differences may have played a role.
TYLAWSKI: The master was under the impression that it must be fine to sail the ship because the pilot says that we should get going.
NARRATOR: In court, the pilot pleaded guilty to negligence.
He lost his license and was jailed for ten months for causing the oil spill.
♪ ♪ The incident highlights the critical role pilots play in the safe navigation of big ships.
And what can happen when the captain and the pilot don't communicate effectively.
MERCOGLIANO: The relationship between the master and the pilot has to be a seamless exchange of information and of control of the vessel.
NARRATOR: Is it possible that poor communication between the captain and pilot contributed to the Ever Given accident?
♪ ♪ The findings of the official investigations have not yet been released.
According to the Suez Canal Authority, it was a complex accident with two main factors at play.
(translated): The biggest factors were the weather conditions and personal mistakes made by the captain.
The captain was unable to control the ship, especially because he was going at a high speed, which was a mistake.
NARRATOR: They also blame the captain's use of the rudder.
(translated): He was using the rudder in the wrong way; he kept changing direction too fast.
NARRATOR: Both the owners and the operators of the Ever Given declined to be interviewed.
But in court, the ship owners stated that it was the marine pilots who ordered the increase in speed, and controlled the direction of the ship.
By analyzing transcripts of the audio recordings, and the report commissioned by the ship owners, experts can piece together a hypothesis of how the ship came to be going so fast, and why it crashed.
♪ ♪ As the Ever Given approached the canal, the report says that strong variable winds made the ship hard to control.
MERCOGLIANO: One of the questions that needs to be asked is whether or not the Suez Canal Authority or the vessel's master should have not made the passage through the canal.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: At 7:18 a.m., at the entrance of the canal, the ship veered close to the left bank.
According to the report, the pilot then ordered "additional full speed ahead" to increase the vessel's speed.
TYLAWSKI: This is a way to regain maneuverability, to increase that resistance to the wind forces.
NARRATOR: The transcripts suggest the maritime pilot ordered the rudder hard left and hard right in quick succession.
What appears to have happened was the situation began to degrade.
The vessel was maneuvering in the channel.
It was starting to lose control.
NARRATOR: At 7:36, the report states that the wind rose to 48 miles per hour, making the vessel even more difficult to control.
Bank effect dragged the vessel from one side of the canal to the other.
The ship had now increased speed to over 13 knots.
TYLAWSKI: Increasing speed increases inertia, so that if you need to do another corrective motion later on, guess what you have to do?
You have to increase the speed even more.
And now you're in a losing battle, because every time you increase that speed, you reduce your ability to get out of trouble.
(loud thudding) NARRATOR: According to the report, many different factors played a part in the crash, including weather, the ship's high speed, and the extreme rudder orders.
The Canal Authority say that the pilots are not to blame.
RABIE (translated): The instructions being given by the pilots to the captain are for guidance.
At the end of the day, it's the captain's responsibility.
He can choose whether or not he follows the pilot's advice.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Legally, the captain is always responsible for the safety of the ship.
But in practice, it's very rare for a captain to overrule their pilot.
Questions remain about the decision making and communication on the bridge.
MERCOGLIANO: If a master has a question regarding a pilot, it's within his authority to immediately, without question, assume command of the vessel.
But the implications are, should an accident befall that vessel, the master, by relieving the pilot, has taken upon himself the full responsibility for whatever happens on the ship.
It also could create a potential problem in the future should that vessel come into that harbor and have to use pilots from that same association.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: After a trial in the Egyptian courts, the canal authority and the ship owners reached a settlement for an undisclosed sum.
♪ ♪ The Ever Given was finally allowed to continue its journey, more than 100 days after the crash.
It arrived in the Netherlands on July 29th and in England the following week, four months late.
This six-day blockage of the Suez Canal held up an estimated $58 billion of cargo, reportedly cost Egypt up to $90 million in lost revenue, and reduced annual world trade growth.
♪ ♪ In Egypt, the Canal Authority is extending a second lane farther south, and widening key sections of the waterway, to make the route safer for large ships.
RABIE (translated): We're on track and we'll hopefully finish in two years.
NARRATOR: But the accident has highlighted the vulnerability of international shipping, and the fragility of our global supply chain.
MERCOGLIANO: We have not kept up with the safety measures that really need to ensure that accidents similar to the ones we've seen are prevented in the future.
It's too easy for things to go catastrophically wrong.
SULLIVAN: The Ever Given was, I think, a wakeup call to everybody of the fact that you're going to have bigger and bigger ships.
You're more reliant on fewer ships with more containers.
And if those ships don't arrive, you can shut down an economy.
And I think if you didn't get the message from the Ever Given, you weren't paying attention.
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