Disasters at Sea (2018) s01e01 Episode Script

Trapped in Typhoon Alley

NARRATOR: A massive cargo ship vanishes in a raging typhoon.
MAN: It is a fantastic mystery how a ship nearly a thousand feet long could just disappear.
NARRATOR: Authorities blame Captain and crew, but not everyone is convinced.
MAN: I trusted the crew.
They wouldn't put their lives in danger.
We'll prove it.
NARRATOR: Their evidence lies at the bottom of the world's deepest ocean.
MAN: Look at that! NARRATOR: What's uncovered, no one expected.
MAN: The ship did something which is to implode and then explode.
MAN: For sure, 44 of them were all alive as she went into typhoon orchid.
For sure, they're all dead.
How did that happen? MAN: Abandon ship! [WOMAN SCREAMS] MAN: Go! [MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: September 8, 1980.
The MV Derbyshireis passing through the western pacific en route to Japan.
Captain Geoffrey Underhill is in command of the massive ship.
The 47-year-old father of two is in charge of every detail of the Derbyshire's operation and its crew of 42.
GEOFFREY UNDERHILL: Morning, Curly.
CURLY BAYLISS: Morning, Captain.
UNDERHILL: Have the met reports come in? BAYLISS: Yeah, I have them right here.
NIGEL MALPASS: Geoff Underhill, GVU, as he was nicknamed by everybody because that was his initials, was a very competent seafaring master.
As far as his personality went, he liked to control by consensus.
NARRATOR: Nigel Malpass served aboard the Derbyshire as chief officer.
He knows the ship and her crew very well.
MALPASS: Derbyshire was a wonderful ship to sail on.
She was almost like brand new.
There was hardly any wear and tear on her, and things worked.
Unless you've actually sailed on one, it's hard to visualize how big they were, but they were really massive.
NARRATOR: At 965 feet, the Derbyshireis longer and twice the weight of the Titanic.
Her nine cargo holds have a capacity of 160,000 tons, and the bridge deck is ten stories high.
A ship of this size can take over two miles to stop and almost a mile to turn.
The Derbyshireis a bulk carrier.
Her huge holds can be filled with anything from grain to crude oil.
But on this trip she's carrying 157,000 tons of iron ore.
After leaving Canada and passing around the Southern tip of Africa, she's now just a few days from her final destination: Kawasaki, Japan.
Because of her size, she's had to take the long way around.
RICK SPILMAN: She was called a cape-size ship because she was 145 feet wide and drew 60 feet of water and was just simply too deep to go through either the Panama canal or the Suez canal, so she had to go beneath the capes Cape horn, cape of good hope Into some of the roughest waters of the world.
NARRATOR: By now ship and crew have been at sea for more than two months.
Most are experienced seamen, including 19-year-old deckhand Peter Lambert.
This is his second year at sea, and he loves it.
PAUL LAMBERT: He couldn't stop talking about it.
Loved it.
You know, I always, I always feel a seafarer's born, you can't make one.
MALPASS: You form very close bonds with the seafarers that you're with.
Your life at times depended on it.
CHRIS HEARN: A ship's crew is like a family because they're on the vessel for extended periods of time together.
ANNE-MARIE HUTCHINSON: Ah, yes, you can just set it there.
NARRATOR: An unusual but well-appreciated company perk allows wives to travel with their husbands.
HUTCHINSON: Thank you, that's perfect.
NARRATOR: 24-year-old Ann-Marie Hutchinson is one of the two wives on board.
So far the voyage has been uneventful.
BAYLISS: Captain? UNDERHILL: Anything exciting? BAYLISS: A little too exciting.
NARRATOR: Chief officer Curly Bayliss delivers weather forecasts predicting a fast-moving storm.
Typhoon orchid is heading their way.
HEARN: The western north pacific has this nickname of typhoon alley.
And that's because the typhoons that form there can be upwards of 300 to 400 miles across, tremendous winds of upwards of 100 miles an hour generating tremendous waves Very destructive force.
NARRATOR: To avoid danger, Underhill needs to keep his ship at least 200 miles from the storm.
But there's a problem.
MALPASS: He received three weather reports One from Guam, one from Tokyo, and one from Hong Kong And each one had given typhoon orchid a different location.
UNDERHILL: Brilliant.
Three forecasts, all different.
NARRATOR: With conflicting weather reports, Captain Underhill has to make his best guess how to dodge the storm.
HEARN: You still had to rely on your expertise, your knowledge base, in being able to identify where you were in relation to the storm.
NARRATOR: Both the typhoon and the ship are moving.
Figuring out how to avoid the storm is an enormous challenge.
MALPASS: Being the sensible seafarer that he was, he would have said, "right, that's three typhoons.
" He wouldn't have tried to second guess which was the right one.
He altered course to the north and the east to avoid all three.
UNDERHILL: If we maintain a good speed, we should be able to sneak through here.
HEARN: You want to make a plan that, if I can keep this course and this speed over the next 24 hours, it may pass behind me.
I might catch some of the weather, but I won't bear the brunt of it.
UNDERHILL: Let's make sure the ship is secure, yeah? BAYLISS: Yes, sir.
UNDERHILL: This is the Captain speaking.
Looks like the weather's getting worse, so please take care till the storm abates and make sure the ship and your cabin are secure.
MALPASS: It was procedure within the company that as you approached bad weather you would go through the procedures of battening down ventilators, putting canvas covers on them, and basically checking that everything was snug and ready to take any kind of sea.
HEARN: Sailing in heavy weather is part of life at sea; It's just part of the job.
That's not to say that you take it lightly.
NARRATOR: One of the most important tasks is to batten down the hatches, large and small.
Peter Lambert is still learning the ropes.
MAN: Make sure you do it nice and tight.
LAMBERT: Everybody adored him.
Everybody loved him.
He'll help you.
No matter what you need doing, he would help you.
[THUNDER] BAYLISS: Captain, we're down to eight knots.
NARRATOR: Within hours, it's clear the captain's plan isn't working.
Despite their change of course, they're hitting heavy weather.
The swelling seas are already making it hard to keep up their speed.
UNDERHILL: Autopilot off.
Let's see if we can make some better headway.
NARRATOR: Conditions continue to worsen.
An unexpected shift in the storm's direction has put them directly in its path.
Through the night, wind speeds increase to 50 miles per hour, and wave heights soar to more than 25 feet.
UNDERHILL: Gentlemen Looks like we'll have to tough this one out.
Heave to, please.
HELMSMAN: Heaving to.
BAYLISS: Keep the wind light on the starboard bow.
HELMSMAN: Turning to port.
Keeping the wind light on the starboard bow.
HEARN: What the Captain wanted to do at the time was to adjust his heading and his course such that he was taking the waves right on his starboard bow because that will cause the ship to just rise and fall, but along her length, but not roll and not pitch.
NARRATOR: As the center of the typhoon closes in, winds have increased to 64 miles per hour and wave heights to more than 35 feet.
These are conditions that few people have experienced at sea.
HEARN: The wind is very loud; It's roaring, basically.
The ship is pitching.
Very little visibility and generally an unpleasant situation to be in.
NARRATOR: There's little else to do but endure the violent motion of the ship.
HEARN: It has a long-term effect over days of that on the crew.
It's exhausting.
Fatigue sets in, because nobody really sleeps, particularly if you're really battered in some heavy seas.
Captain Underhill probably didn't leave when the weather really picked up, because he has to be there and he has to see what's going on.
It's just continued vigilance all the time, a wary vigilance.
UNDERHILL: Radio our position to Liverpool.
[MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: As they enter their second night of the storm, the Derbyshire radios her position to shore and checks in with a nearby ship.
MAN: This is the Derbyshire, how are you enjoying the weather? MAN ON RADIO: Loving it, lov Even better when we meet up in tok Seeing you there in a day or t NARRATOR: William McCrone was on a container ship heading to the same port in Japan.
WILLIAM MCCRONE: Actually we were talking to the Derbyshire on the vhf at the time, and we made arrangements to meet the guys on board, because there's a, there's a nightclub in Tokyo called fou fous in roppongi.
We're all going to go up the road and have a night in fou fous, but unfortunately it never happened.
UNDERHILL: 20 degrees starboard.
HELMSMAN: 20 degrees to starboard, Captain.
UNDERHILL: Easy does it.
NARRATOR: By now more than two days of unrelenting Gale-force winds have whipped the waves to monstrous heights.
Then, later into the night BAYLISS: We're gonna feel this one! NARRATOR: The scream of twisting steel can only mean one thing.
UNDERHILL: We're losing her! We're gonna lose her! Abandon ship! Abandon ship! [ALARM BUZZING] Abandon ship! [ALARM BUZZING] MALPASS: It would be only in the last few seconds they would have realized what was happening.
[CREAKING] [MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: Five days later, typhoon orchid has finally dissipated, but no one has heard from the Derbyshire Not even a mayday call.
MCCRONE: Come daylight in the morning in the container terminal, we could hear helicopters.
When we looked around, the Japanese coast guard were just coming over us.
The helicopters were all heading away out to sea.
They were going to start the search for the Derbyshire.
NARRATOR: Their hope, that in a vast ocean, the lives of 44 people can still be saved.
11 days after the last radio call from the MV Derbyshire, an exhaustive search by the Japanese coast guard has found no survivors.
[SIREN BLOWS] An oil slick is sighted 28 miles from the Derbyshire's last position, but no sign of the largest British ship lost at sea.
ANDY BOWEN: It was a fantastic mystery as to how a ship of 1,000, nearly 1,000 feet long could, uh, just, uh, uh, disappear.
NARRATOR: All 44 passengers and crew are presumed dead.
Among them, 19-year-old deckhand Peter Lambert.
His family are devastated.
LAMBERT: You know, me mother, she was totally destroyed.
And she kept on asking why? Why Peter? Why did this ship sink? How did he die? Why? NARRATOR: The sinking is attributed to typhoon orchid and written off as an act of god.
But not everyone is convinced.
MALPASS: Why would a sensible, well-found ship suddenly disappear quickly without any distress signals? LAMBERT: And I just said, "mother, I promise you I'll find out how the ship sank, why it sank, and why Peter lost his life on it.
I promise you I'll do that.
" NARRATOR: Wasting no time, a 28-year-old Paul Lambert reaches out to the national union of seafarers.
LAMBERT: What I wanted to ask you about was actually the Derbyshire.
MAN: I think you should take a look at this.
LAMBERT: Different ships had been going down, and nothing was getting done about it.
Derbyshire was the same.
MAN: All the same type of freighters.
Lambert learns a shocking number of bulk carriers have been sinking.
LAMBERT: On average, one bulk carrier sank every six to seven weeks, with total loss of life.
The era of the coffin ships That's how we classed it.
NARRATOR: Lambert is convinced the lives of other seafarers are in danger.
But he can't get anyone to act, until another accident, six years after the tragedy, changes everything.
LAMBERT: The turning point was in 1986 when the Derbyshire's sister ship, the Kowloon bridge, got in difficulties in the Irish sea.
SPILMAN: There was major cracking at a bulkhead right in front of the deckhouse at frame 65.
NARRATOR: The Derbyshire is one of six sister ships designed with steel beams along the length of their hulls to add strength.
But during construction, the girders are joined at frame number 65, creating a potential weak point.
Now three of the six ships have had something go badly wrong at sea.
SPILMAN: For the Derbyshire families and many people looking at the ship, seeing an obvious structural flaw in a ship that disappeared made them think that probably what caused the Derbyshire to sink was a flaw at frame 65.
This began to look like a smoking gun.
NARRATOR: The families fear that if a design flaw did cause the disaster, other lives could be at risk.
UNDERHILL: We're losing her! We're gonna lose her! Abandon ship! LAMBERT: It's not just what happened to Peter.
Something had to be done.
Yes, hello, it's, uh, Paul Lambert again.
Have you had time to review that information I sent you? NARRATOR: Lambert uses the suspicions about frame 65 to convince government officials to re-examine their conclusions.
But after two years of investigation and nine years after the tragedy, they once again conclude typhoon orchid is to blame for the loss of the Derbyshire.
LAMBERT: The findings were an act of god.
NARRATOR: It's a verdict the families refuse to accept.
LAMBERT: Derbyshire sank twice One in the south China sea, two in a sea of whitewash.
I want you to have a look at this.
NARRATOR: Lambert decides the only way they'll get a proper investigation is if the families of the victims take matters into their own hands.
LAMBERT: We're not gonna know the truth unless we find it ourselves.
NARRATOR: Their first task is to find the wreck.
HEARN: They had to work out and extrapolate where roughly they thought the vessel was based on where the oil slick had been discovered by the Japanese coast guard.
NARRATOR: The search area encompasses some of the deepest waters in the ocean, reaching depths of more than three miles.
BOWEN: In those days there was very limited capabilities to really search large areas of the seafloor, and for the most part the wreck was thought to be unfindable.
NARRATOR: Undaunted, Lambert and the other families of the crew do something that's never been done before.
They raise enough money to launch a short eight-day search.
And they get lucky.
14 long years after the tragedy, on the fifth day of the expedition, they confirm the location of the wreck.
LAMBERT: We found the Derbyshire.
Oof, it blows your mind, honest to god.
We know where she is.
We know where the graves are.
44 people.
NARRATOR: With news of the discovery, 42-year-old Lambert demands the government reopen the investigation.
LAMBERT: We want these bulk carriers looked at.
We want them surveyed properly.
We want the ones that are unseaworthy taken out of commission and scrapped.
We want men to go away to sea knowing that the ship underneath them is safe, not worrying whether they'll come home again or not.
NARRATOR: In the face of overwhelming public interest, the British government agrees to fund a full-scale expedition.
And this time, they bring in the heavy guns.
SPILMAN: They brought in woods hole, who was the most advanced oceanographic and deep sea research group of their day, and perhaps to this day as well.
NARRATOR: The woods hole oceanographic institution, whose team discovered the Titanic, will now explore the Derbyshire over 13,000 feet beneath the sea.
BOWEN: The Derbyshire survey was really the world's sort of first very high quality forensic investigation.
NARRATOR: 38-year-old robotics engineer Andy Bowen is in command of the world's most sophisticated submersible.
BOWEN: Our job was to actually go down and collect evidence for the possible scenarios that would explain why the ship was lost.
For example, had the propeller fallen off? Had the rudder failed? Was there a fire in the engine room? NARRATOR: A total of 13 possible causes for the sinking are marked for investigation, including a possible catastrophic failure at frame 65.
BOWEN: Damn it, hooked again.
NARRATOR: Andy Bowen maneuvers his ROV to image as much of the wreckage as possible.
BOWEN: Up and away.
NARRATOR: He needs to give investigators enough detail to analyze the damage.
BOWEN: It was an incredible challenge to the extent that we're dangling these cameras at the end of literally a thread three miles down, into a debris field, something like a large collapsed skyscraper.
ALEX GLYKAS: Wow.
It's cold.
BOWEN: It's for the computers.
NARRATOR: PHD student Alex Glykas joins professor Douglas Faulkner to analyze the images.
[MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: The debris is scattered over nearly a mile of the seafloor.
BOWEN: Alright.
Let's move in for a closer look.
[WHIRRING] NARRATOR: 17 years after the tragic loss of the ship and her 44 passengers and crew, the answers may finally be within reach.
[MUSIC PLAYING] Investigators guide a remote camera vehicle two and a half miles below the surface of the pacific ocean.
They need to know why the largest British ship ever lost at sea went down.
GLYKAS: Really torn apart.
Look at that.
NARRATOR: The giant ship has been shattered into over 2,000 pieces of twisted metal and debris.
NARRATOR: Andy Bowen has examined many shipwrecks, but he's never seen anything like this before.
BOWEN: I think everyone was staggered by the fact that it covered such a large area.
The bow and the stern of the ship were in two separate places separated by a significant distance.
And everything else in between, all of the ship's structure, was for the most part turned into what I would almost call confetti.
NARRATOR: The twisted metal fragments are a telltale sign of a violent phenomenon that can tear a ship apart.
BOWEN: When the Derbyshire sank, because of its unique construction of a double hull, it actually did something, which is to implode and then explode.
NARRATOR: As Derbyshire sank below the waves, increased water pressure drove her watertight double hulls inward.
At that point, the trapped air became so highly compressed, it exploded.
BOWEN: It, it explodes back out in a shockwave, and that energy release was probably equivalent to many tons of TNT.
And so the wreckage on the seafloor was just huge pieces of ship twisted by energy that just is almost impossible to imagine.
NARRATOR: In other words, the explosions were the result of the catastrophe, not the cause.
Investigators still have no idea what set off the disaster.
The ROV has captured thousands of high-definition photographs.
Investigators scrutinize them, searching for any sign of a fracture that occurred before the ship sank, in particular, around the known structural flaw at frame 65.
NARRATOR: But it's a dead end.
Frame 65 shows unmistakable signs of the same explosive phenomenon.
GLYKAS: It wasn't frame 65.
This happened when she was already going down.
NARRATOR: The cause they had hoped to prove A weakness in her construction Is not the reason the Derbyshire sank.
NARRATOR: If it wasn't frame 65, something else must have triggered the disaster.
UNDERHILL: We're losing her! We're gonna lose her! [ALARM BUZZING] Abandon ship! Abandon ship! [ALARM BUZZING] Abandon ship! [ALARM BUZZING] NARRATOR: If the ship's structure didn't fail, investigators wonder, is her cargo responsible for her sinking? BOWEN: Derbyshire was carrying this iron ore.
The snowstorm of this fine material, it was scattered everywhere.
SPILMAN: Ore carriers are very dangerous ships, because they have such heavy, dense cargos that as soon as the ship starts flooding and loses buoyancy, the ship goes straight to the bottom.
An ore ship sinks literally like a stone.
NARRATOR: On this voyage the Derbyshire was loaded with 157,000 tons of iron ore, a cargo so heavy, only seven of her nine holds could be partially filled.
MALPASS: You need to ensure that your center of gravity and center of buoyancy, what's called the go, is moderate.
Otherwise, you get what's called a dead ship.
It doesn't have that buoyancy, and it whips from side to side.
NARRATOR: Is it possible the crew made an error when they loaded the ship? BAYLISS: Are we good to go? MALPASS: A dead ship is one that you start to get worried about.
BAYLISS: Cheers, mate.
NARRATOR: They review the records from the Derbyshire's port of departure.
But there's no sign of any problem that would explain the disaster.
Investigators are forced back to what they've always known: The sea conditions on the night the Derbyshire went down were unusually extreme.
SPILMAN: One ship in the same typhoon reported seeing waves that were between 60 and 90 feet tall.
MAN: This is the Derbyshire.
How are you enjoying the weather? MCCRONE: You stand on the bridge, and all you see ahead of you is just a wall of water.
Is she going to go over it or go through it? NARRATOR: Professor Faulkner proposes a theory, which at the time is still controversial: Perhaps the Derbyshire was overcome by a rogue wave.
DOUGLAS FAULKNER: And I think it's been happening since the dawn of time.
NARRATOR: For centuries, mariners have told stories about vast waves that seem to come out of nowhere.
SPILMAN: Rogue waves are often described as being a single, solitary wave that's much taller than the rest of the seas, usually two to three times taller, often coming from a different direction from most of the other waves.
The wave is breaking, it's unstable, and when it hits the ship, it can have incredible impact.
HEARN: Nobody knows how they form.
They literally form out of nowhere.
And they will hit a ship.
NARRATOR: Did a rogue wave send the Derbyshire and 44 people to the bottom of the sea? HEARN: It's terrible, it's terrible if you could see it, and just as terrible if you couldn't.
NARRATOR: Investigators believe the hull of the Derbyshire was nearly intact when she sank.
Was she overcome by a rogue wave? Or was it something else? They analyze photographs of the wreckage, hoping to find out.
BOWEN: Each image was taken individually and carefully placed in context to its neighbor so that you could get this large area view, which is impossible to get in any other way.
HEARN: They literally put together an enormous mosaic of what the wreck looked like.
NARRATOR: Most of the ship has been shattered.
But the bow of the ship is different.
FAULKNER: Amazing.
HEARN: The bow was for the most part intact, and that indicated that the bow was generally flooded and full of water and therefore did not fracture, did not compress or explode under water pressure, which says a lot about the possibilities to why the ship sank.
NARRATOR: If the bow was full of water, is this what caused the sinking? BOWEN: Thank you.
NARRATOR: As investigators search for the source of the flooding, they find a troubling image.
NARRATOR: The open hatch they've discovered is the bosun's hatch, leading to a storage compartment below the forward deck.
UNDERHILL: Let's make sure the ship is secure, yeah? BAYLISS: Yes, sir.
NARRATOR: Is it possible the wingnuts on the bosun's hatch were not properly secured by the crew? MAN: Make sure you do it nice and tight.
NARRATOR: If the hatch opened during the storm, tons of seawater could have entered the storage space below and loaded down the front of the ship.
HEARN: The bow is lowering as the water is filling up these spaces.
And there comes a point where the bow is not rising now like it should.
NARRATOR: With the flooded bow sinking low in the water, waves would begin washing further and further up the deck, loading tons of seawater onto the enormous main cargo hatches.
HEARN: Those hatches are strong, they're well made, but they're not designed for that type of loading.
And by now we may be in the worst part of the weather, with waves maybe upwards of 40 feet, so each one of those falls down onto that number one hatch, hundreds of tons falling down on the hatch.
NARRATOR: A 39-foot wave can smash down with a force of 400 tons, far exceeding the design limit of the hatch covers.
It would be only a matter of time before they gave way.
GLYKAS: Look at that.
NARRATOR: Once the first cargo hatch collapsed, the nearly empty hold would fill quickly, pulling the bow even deeper into oncoming waves.
SPILMAN: The covers failed on hatch number one.
Hatch number two is empty.
Hatch number two fills with water and begins pulling the ship down even further.
By the time she reaches hatch number three, and that is filling, the ship is well on her way to the bottom.
NARRATOR: Investigators believe the evidence proves their theory The disaster and the deaths of everyone on board could have been prevented if only the crew had properly secured the small bosun's hatch.
GLYKAS: The families aren't going to like this.
NARRATOR: As a courtesy, the families are told the news before it's released to the press.
GLYKAS: I'm sorry, but the pictures indicate the hatch wasn't secured.
LAMBERT: The hatch wasn't secured, what does that mean? The GLYKAS: It seems like bad seamanship.
LAMBERT: Bad seamanship? GLYKAS: The bosun's hatch wasn't secured.
LAMBERT: No, that's wrong.
No, you're wrong about that.
HEARN: Evidence that pointed towards maybe there was a human error, I think, really fueled the fire for these people.
They said, "no, these people were professionals.
There's just no way that kind of a crew would do something that would put themselves at peril.
" LAMBERT: You're wrong about this, and I'm gonna bloody prove it.
I trusted the crew.
They wouldn't put their lives in danger.
You've spent all these years not being able to grieve properly.
Leave.
Thank you.
Fighting, campaigning, doing whatever you can, whatever you have to.
And they come back and they say bad seamanship.
GLYKAS: Just look at the pictures.
LAMBERT: The hatch wasn't left open.
We'll prove it.
NARRATOR: In the search for proof, the Derbyshire's former chief officer may already have the answer.
MALPASS: I knew for sure that the conclusions that had been drawn so far were wrong.
NARRATOR: Former chief officer Nigel Malpass doesn't believe crew error caused the Derbyshire to sink.
He was supposed to be aboard that final trip, but a last-minute crew change saved him.
MALPASS: Some people have said I'm the luckiest person alive, but in fact I should have been on the Derbyshire when she was lost.
I'd been with most of that crew the trip before.
I knew all the crew very well.
NARRATOR: Malpass is certain the investigators have it wrong.
He doesn't believe the crew would ever leave the forward hatch unsecured.
MALPASS: Anybody that knew the ship knew that you couldn't have drawn that conclusion.
One of the things that convinced me when I saw the photograph of the bosun's store, with the bits of heaving line hanging off the dogs, that she'd been well secured.
NARRATOR: When Malpass was chief officer on the Derbyshire, he made sure the crew knew how to secure the bosun's hatch, with a lashing known as a cat's cradle.
MALPASS: We'd put a cat's cradle on that bosun's store.
The whole essence of that being there was to stop those wing nuts opening.
And I have no doubts that Derbyshire went through that procedure.
NARRATOR: The testimony of Nigel Malpass, along with some strands of rope fastened to the bosun's hatch, effectively throw the investigators' findings into doubt.
Something else must have caused the flooding in the bow that set off the disaster.
For help, the high court turns to Marin, the maritime research institute of the Netherlands.
Here, they can simulate the behavior of all kinds of ships, in nearly any sea condition.
GUILHEM GAILLARDE: In fact, we were the only facility in the world that could replicate the wave condition that happened during the accident.
We could make any kind of waves, long-crested waves, short-crested waves, that means waves coming from different directions.
And this was a very, very unique capability at that time.
NARRATOR: The team at Marin are tasked to recreate the conditions of typhoon orchid and test its impact on the Derbyshire.
They need to know if something other than crew error could have set off the disaster.
GAILLARDE: There was very large expectations from the families.
We really felt the pressure that we really had to, to perform.
LAMBERT: We want the truth.
If it is bad seamanship, fair enough.
As long as they can prove without a shadow of a doubt someone made a mistake, we'll accept it.
NARRATOR: For the Derbyshire test, the tank is programmed with detailed meteorological information about typhoon orchid.
A precise 15-foot replica is loaded with sensors to track the stresses the typhoon put on the ship and its forward hatches.
GAILLARDE: It's a scale model, but the geometry must be very, very accurate.
We also modeled the propulsion train, because the, the speed of the ship was of importance.
The loads would be different if the ship was sailing at zero knots, or two knots, four knots.
REINT DALLINGA: One of the key ideas is to have an unbiased impression of the behavior of the ship in storm condition.
In our basin, the models have everything that is relevant for the behavior and safety of a normal ship.
NARRATOR: Hour after hour, the Derbyshire replica is driven through the very worst of typhoon orchid.
Even with huge waves breaking over her bow, sensors detect no sign of failure from the forward hatches.
GAILLARDE: During the model test, we saw, of course, a lot of dramatic event like wave coming on the forward deck and breaking on the hatch cover.
But the ship shouldn't have sunk with this type of conditions.
So it had to be something else.
NARRATOR: If neither the cargo hatches nor the bosun's hatch failed at this point in the storm, where did the seawater that filled up the bow come from? GAILLARDE: That was the big question What was the opening in the ship that made it possible to lower the bow of the vessel in a such way that you would expose the, the forward part of the ship to the waves? NARRATOR: Weeks of tests turn up few clues until the team turns to a theory so unlikely it hardly seemed worth considering.
Air vents on the forward deck lead down to open storage areas below.
Wreckage photos reveal the caps that keep water out of the vents were damaged by the heavy seas.
Did the damaged air vents let in enough seawater to cause flooding in the bow? DALLINGA: We proposed to mimic those open holes on the model.
But the question was, are these openings big enough? Can we prove that, that the timeframe over which the ship was exposed, that that's long enough that it fills completely? NARRATOR: The air vents are so small they only let in a trickle of water compared to the size of the ship.
But typhoon orchid lasted more than two days Long enough for that trickle to become a flood.
DALLINGA: We were able to show that the ingress rate was more than enough to explain that the entire forepeak was full of water.
NARRATOR: Once flooded, the bow sinks deeper into oncoming waves, and the large cargo hatches are hammered with more and more water.
GAILLARDE: Within five to six hours you would get waves that would create loading in excess of what is admissible for hatch cover.
It was a big surprise for everybody to realize that so tiny little holes could produce this chain of event, and this was really the breakthrough.
NARRATOR: The discovery is the missing link investigators needed.
They now know what caused the 20-year-old tragedy.
It began when the Derbyshire's Captain and crew were enduring their second day of typhoon orchid.
UNDERHILL: 20 degrees starboard.
HELMSMAN: 20 degrees to starboard, Captain.
UNDERHILL: Easy does it.
NARRATOR: They're unaware of the danger unfolding under the forward deck.
HEARN: The ventilator caps are gone, there's water now filling into the bosun's locker and into the lower stores.
And from the bridge you can't see this.
You'd be very lucky if you could see at all.
Maybe if you had the foremast light on, you may be able to just make it out.
But you can't see that it's slowing in its rise and its fall.
It's not as high now.
NARRATOR: The Derbyshire has endured more than two days of pounding seas.
HEARN: Now we have waves spilling over the bow and making it down as far as the number one hatch.
BAYLISS: We're gonna feel this one! NARRATOR: One after the other, the nine enormous cargo hatches give way.
UNDERHILL: We're losing her! We're gonna lose her! [ALARM BUZZING] Abandon ship! Abandon ship! MALPASS: Number two would have gone.
HUTCHINSON: What's going on? MALPASS: Followed by number three Number four, number five, number six.
UNDERHILL: Abandon ship! [ALARM BUZZING] MALPASS: Number seven, number eight and number nine, in rapid sequence.
[ALARM BUZZING] HEARN: By that time, it's too late.
[MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: The fate of everyone on board is sealed.
SPILMAN: The ship sank so quickly that no one was able to send a message.
BOWEN: The investigation estimated within the span of a few moments.
[MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: On November 8, 2000, the high court inquiry in London concludes that the Derbyshire sank due to waves destroying air pipes in the bow, triggering uncontrollable flooding.
LAMBERT: The one thing that we've lived with now for over 12 months is the fact the assessors blamed the crew for the loss of the ship, and today they've been completely exonerated.
NARRATOR: The court delivers new safety recommendations for bulk carriers.
They include a requirement to install devices to control flooding in the forward section and the construction of significantly stronger hatch covers.
SPILMAN: The cover design, almost doubled in strength, was adopted by the international community, and hatch covers and bulk carriers around the world are much safer because of the Derbyshire.
NARRATOR: In 2004, Paul Lambert and the Derbyshire family association's efforts to improve safety are recognized when they're awarded the marine society's Thomas gray silver medal.
HEARN: And I think that's one of the more remarkable stories about this, is their continued persistence to get to the bottom of what happened.
LAMBERT: I believe that ship tried to keep them seafarers safe, and in the end, it was just too much, she was just too tired.
She'd lost her trim, her head was constantly under the water, and you were just waiting for that hatch-breaking wave, and when it come, she just couldn't do any more.