Disasters at Sea (2018) s01e02 Episode Script

Deadly Neglect

Coast guard, we are positively in bad shape.
A cargo ship capsizes in a winter storm, throwing the crew into freezing waters.
It was absolutely undescribably cold.
You have about one hour until you become unconscious from hypothermia.
The ship had sailed through raging seas many times before.
Why did this voyage end in disaster? The weather shouldn't have been a problem, so what happened? Investigators now have a deadly mystery to solve.
What they discover is shocking.
Unbelievable! The marine electric was a tragedy that should never have happened.
Abandon ship! Go! It's a stormy winter day off the coast of Virginia.
Yeah, copy that.
We're on our way.
Captain Philip Corl of the bulk carrier marine electric is on what should have been a short run up the coast.
But he's just received word a nearby ship is in trouble.
Fishing vessel Theodora is in distress.
We got to go lend a hand.
Roger, Captain.
Gene Kelly was on board as the marine electric's third mate.
So they called us and asked if we could turn and go stand by the Theodora.
And if they did sink, then you'd go into some type of a rescue attempt.
There is the law of the ocean, you Don't leave anybody in peril.
The distress call finds the marine electric partway through a routine run carrying nearly 25,000 tons of coal from Norfolk, Virginia, up the Atlantic coast to somerset, Massachusetts.
The 40-year-old vessel is no stranger to bad weather.
It was built as a tanker during world war ii.
After the war, it was converted to carry cargo for commercial shipping.
The marine electric had been through heavy seas before.
They were confident that she was able to navigate through a tough storm.
The ship's crew is also very experienced.
The marine electric's Captain is a veteran mariner with four decades at sea.
Chief officer is Bob Cusick.
He noticed the position of the Theodora when marine electric sailed past.
Now, where were they when you saw them? They were somewhere around Around here.
Bob Cusick, friendliest guy you could imagine working for.
Uh, made life easy, uh, explained everything and was not overbearing.
The sea was in his blood.
He loved the sea from the time he was a little boy.
He sailed from the time he was 15 to the time he was 64 or 65.
Based on Cusick's coordinates, Captain corl will have to turn the ship a full 180 degrees through waves more than 20 feet high.
Prepare to alter course.
Standing by.
Turning means putting the ship temporarily broadside to the enormous ocean waves.
If they Don't time it perfectly, it could capsize the ship.
Even if it imperils you, it doesn't matter.
You have to do whatever it takes to help a fellow mariner.
Now! Turn left steady on 220! Roger, Captain, turning to 220.
As the ship turns, it cuts across the oncoming waves and shakes violently from side to side.
Michael Carr served in the U.
S.
merchant marine.
He knows what the crew was facing.
It's like turning around on a freeway with everything coming right at you.
It's very dangerous.
Almost there.
When she actually turned, the entire ship shudders Then the ship comes back down, and it just displaces tons and tons and tons of water at one time.
Just like turning a rowboat, Captain.
Corl times the turn perfectly.
It was just neatly done.
He seemed really to know what he was doing.
He handled the ship well.
And, uh, really put the minds of the officers and crew at ease.
They knew that corl was a pro.
Any sign of the fishing vessel Theodora? I have a light bearing two points on the starboard bow.
Two points off the starboard bow.
They quickly spot the vessel in distress.
Got it? The 65-foot fishing boat is struggling in the 20-foot seas.
It's taking on water.
And the pumps that normally remove it aren't working.
Coast guard, this is marine electric.
We are at position 37 degrees, 50.
1 minutes north, 74 degrees, 53.
6 minutes west.
Roger, we copy that.
On our way.
Corl reports the ship's position to the coast guard and does what he can to help.
Let's see if we can make a wall.
The massive marine electric positions itself so it can shield the fishing boat from the worst of the waves until coast guard rescuers arrive.
It was like the Theodora having a wall of steel, uh, between her and the rows of swells that were coming in and, and threatening her.
We get pounded pretty good, we're rolling pretty good, uh, taking a lot of spray over the deck.
But it wasn't long before the coast guard helicopter was there, dropped the de-watering pumps on, and they got, uh, the de-watering pumps up and running.
The marine electric protects the Theodora for nearly an hour while it pumps out.
With Theodora finally out of danger, the coast guard clears the marine electric to continue on course for Massachusetts.
But the storm is getting worse.
The ship is now struggling to make any headway.
You're talking about a fierce nor'easter here.
Every time you have a wave, the ship really porpoises through it, really, and the, and the bow may actually be submerged for a little bit, uh, in really rough weather.
Ships like the marine electric were designed to cut through ocean waves, which wash over the deck and roll off the sides.
But the storm has slowed their progress to a crawl.
I am heaving to.
Slow ahead on the engine.
Heaving to.
Slow ahead on the engine.
We're gonna have to ride this out.
The Captain slows the ship and heaves to, a position that simply holds it in place at the safest angle to the waves.
With the storm jeopardizing the ship, the Captain catches what sleep he can on the bridge.
He wanted to be woken every 15 minutes and appraised of the situation.
Did he have a premonition? I don't know.
Can't see a damn thing.
Oh, it's dark! The wind was really howling, uh, really howling.
She had already cranked up to at least 40, 45 miles an hour.
It was, it was really bad.
And I went out just to feel the magnitude of the weather.
No other reason.
I didn't have ships on the radar that I was looking for, I wasn't looking to make a weather report.
I just wanted to feel the magnitude of the weather.
Quickly I realized there was no place to stand out there.
Hours pass as the marine electric endures lashing rain and heavy seas.
With 20-foot waves tossing the ship, there's little sleep for anyone on board.
I remember just staying in the bunk and laying there and maybe dozing here and there for five or ten minutes.
Um, it was not a comfortable night.
Then, third mate gene Kelly is startled awake.
Somewhere around one o'clock that I got a knock on my door.
Rise and shine! Captain wants all deck officers on the bridge! When my feet hit the deck, I could tell the attitude of the ship had changed.
Kelly's instinct is right.
Coast guard, this is marine electric.
I am going down by the head.
Something is very wrong on the marine electric.
The bow is no longer rising out of the waves.
The forward part of the ship was under water.
The ocean was no longer rising up and boarding the ship and then shipping off the other side.
Looking out on this I knew that this ship was in trouble.
30 miles off the coast of Virginia, the bulk carrier marine electric is struggling to stay afloat in a savage winter storm.
The ship was now having water board all the way back down the deck.
It was almost like a waterfall would look, uh, water just, uh, boiling and boiling and boiling.
Get your rope down, come on, let's get it undone.
The crew battles the elements to prepare the lifeboats for deployment.
The waters of the Atlantic ocean in February are a frigid 39 degrees Fahrenheit.
Everyone hopes they won't actually be forced to abandon ship.
Keep it locked! All right, you and me, let's go! We've got to check the other side! Abandoning ship is the last resort.
It basically says we can no longer solve the problems in front of us, and we need to, to get off the vessel, um, which is sometimes even a worse set of circumstances.
The water is freezing cold, it's the middle of winter, that wind's howling.
I mean, these are huge seas, seas as big as houses.
So, lifeboats or life rafts are not an improvement over staying on the ship.
Captain corl has a final, desperate plan to avoid sinking.
Prepare to alter course.
I'm gonna try to run her aground.
Preparing to alter course.
He's only 30 miles from the coast.
If he can run the marine electric aground, it might keep the ship and its crew above water long enough to be rescued by the coast guard.
When I heard he had turned northwest and was trying to run the ship aground, I thought, that's a pretty drastic move.
They turn for land.
But the bow is now completely underwater.
The water was coming back right to the base of the house, and just exploding into white water.
Um, hatches were completely covered with, uh, ocean water.
And there's another problem.
Coast guard, this is marine electric.
I am listing at eight degrees now.
The water entering the ship is now making it list dramatically.
It's now in serious danger of capsizing altogether.
The Captain calls for rescue.
Coast guard, we are positively in bad shape.
Roger, we copy that.
Estimate to your position, two hours.
We Don't have two hours! Coast guard, marine electric.
I think I'm gonna lose my ship here.
It was at that point that reality really hit home.
When Phil said, 'I think I'm gonna lose my ship, ' he was matter of fact.
He wasn't screeching into the microphone, 'I'm losing my ship!' It was just a statement.
It just had to have been incredibly tough, but he just obviously saw at one point we're not gonna survive this.
And so you have to, you have no choice at that point.
Okay, guys, time to go.
Sound the alarm.
Abandon ship right now.
Go! We're abandoning ship right now! The crew scrambles on deck.
If you're sinking, the amount of time you have to take action is very short.
You start to grasp the reality that, that mother nature will wipe you out without even a second thought.
They're trying to board the lifeboat, but the list is swinging it away from the deck.
It looked like it could've been the Grand Canyon.
There was no way people were going to jump from the ship into that lifeboat.
Third mate gene Kelly knows the ship could turn over at any second, taking the lifeboat along with it.
Kelly saw a stack of life rings And he threw them out into the water almost as if he were throwing discus.
I had a daughter at home, and a wife.
I had two dogs and I had a good life, and I wasn't, I was not gonna, uh, get swallowed up by the ocean.
Moments later, the massive ship begins turning over.
I remember Paul Dewey was reaching over to haul the lifeboat closer to the side of the ship.
And it was at that point that I saw Paul reach and tumble over the side.
He was the first person that I saw go in the water, and as the ship was rolling I could hear people screaming and yelling, and I could see the smokestack starting to come down on top of me.
I don't know where it came out of A primeval scream, and it was for my mother.
It was 'ma!' Kelly is thrown into the freezing water wearing only a life-jacket and the clothes on his back as the marine electric completes its terrifying roll.
It was absolutely, undescribably cold.
Somebody, uh, put you in a vise and turned it as tight as you could.
I couldn't catch a breath.
The rest of the crew is scattered around him.
I'm treading water in my, in my life-jacket.
When I reached the crest of a wave, I could see the strobe lights on all the life-jackets.
And then you'd be down in the trough of the waves, and you might only see one or two flashes.
The churning ocean is frigid.
Unless help arrives soon, none of them will survive.
You have one minute to get your breathing under control.
You have about 10 minutes of meaningful movement and one hour until you might become unconscious from hypothermia.
Drifting alone in the dark, Kelly gets lucky.
I just bumped into something.
And it turned out to be five other guys holding on to a life ring.
Kelly grabs on, and together they fight for their lives against the deadly effects of the freezing ocean.
The water was excruciatingly cold.
The other guys on the life ring, they kept falling off to sleep.
I know Richie Roberts was a very quiet death.
Because he fell asleep, and I said, 'Richie, you all right? Richie, Richie!' And he didn't respond.
In itself, hypothermia is a very violent internal death.
Externally, it looked very peaceful, very inviting, very inviting to go to sleep and just maybe wake up later.
Barely conscious after more than an hour in the water, Kelly hears something overhead.
A coast guard rescue helicopter.
It looked like the angel of mercy come over.
I was able to reach out and grab the flashlight, and I started to maneuver it up into the sky, hopefully somebody would see it at that point.
The helicopter is equipped with a basket to hoist survivors to safety.
But it's meant to extract them from lifeboats.
Kelly and almost all of the rest of the crew are in the water.
The intense cold has left them unable to grab on and pull themselves into it.
A Navy helicopter arrives next, and rescue swimmer James McCann plunges in.
He's trained to pull survivors from the water.
I swim to the person, grab 'em by the back of their jacket and don't even check to see if they're alive or dead and swim over to the basket.
Mccann is the sole rescue swimmer on the scene.
Only he can pull men directly from the water.
They were pretty much face down in the water, some of them were head up in the water, with no movement whatsoever.
They just kind of had the, the, you know, their arms limped out here and the vest was basically holding them up.
Mccann braves the deadly seas for nearly an hour, retrieving as many crewmen as he can.
I knew I was going into hypothermia, but I didn't want to quit.
Up in the helicopter the crew chief saw me shaking, and he called it, he pulled me in.
In the end, only three men survive the freezing waters: Able seaman Paul Dewey, chief mate Bob Cusick and third mate gene Kelly.
Why me? Why was it me that made it? Who knows? Who knows? But yeah, my ticket wasn't over for the ride.
That's what I keep telling people.
Who knows? The capsizing of the marine electric has left 31 men dead.
But what caused it remains a mystery.
The search for answers will become the most important maritime inquiry in American history.
Everything changed because of the marine electric.
Seven hours after it capsized, the marine electric finally disappears into the Atlantic.
31 members of the marine electric's crew of 34 are dead, including Captain Philip Corl.
To the maritime community, the shock of the loss of the men, many of whom died of, uh, of hypothermia in those very cold seas, it was a huge thing.
Why did the marine electric, a ship that had sailed through rough seas for nearly 40 years, capsize and sink to the bottom of the Atlantic? Look here, let's see where we are on this.
In Portsmouth, Virginia, the U.
S.
coast guard immediately convenes a marine board to investigate the disaster.
Captain Peter lauridsen is in charge.
The coast guard has the authority to investigate marine casualties.
The coast guard office sent investigators out immediately, and so they were, they were gathering information and they were feeding it to us.
Hey, nice to see you again.
Hey, welcome aboard.
Because of the serious nature of the accident, the national transportation safety board joins the inquiry.
If there's more than six deaths, they automatically had a responsibility to investigate also.
Okay, let's talk about the areas of interest.
The weather seems like an obvious factor.
But lauridsen suspects it won't completely explain the disaster.
The weather shouldn't have been a problem with, uh, a vessel that was operating normally.
So, um, what happened? The inquiry will consider everything from the ship's structural integrity to human error.
So lauridsen needs to see every scrap of information he can get.
We're gonna need the survey, the records, and manifest.
Manifest.
Okay.
Got it.
Everything that you got.
Okay? Divers survey the wreck and discover the hull in several large pieces on the seafloor, presenting lauridsen his first possible cause: Its cargo of nearly 25,000 tons of coal.
The heavy cargos that bulk carriers contain have to be loaded in just the right way, or it can put a huge strain on the ship's structure and even break it in half.
If you load the holds in the wrong sequence, if you load too much in one hold and not enough in another hold, you can have situations where the ship will literally break apart.
Lauridsen wonders if the crew made a deadly loading error before they ever left port.
All good? As always.
Yeah.
The sequence is important so you Don't overstress the vessel.
All right? Okay, thanks, Bob.
Okay, so let's take a look at the loading sequence here and let's take a look at the weights.
Lauridsen checks the crew's loading records, but there's no sign they made any mistakes.
Number two The cargo wasn't too heavy, and the holds were loaded in the correct order to avoid straining the ship.
One.
That's the sequence it was loaded.
It was a normal loading process, so we know now the vessel was not overstressed beyond the capability of the ship to handle it.
Meanwhile, the ship's owner, marine transport lines, goes public with its theory about what went wrong.
In all accidents you're going to get all sorts of theories.
You're gonna have all sorts of interests protecting their own interests.
Fishing vessel Theodora is in distress.
We got to go lend a hand.
Where were they when you saw them? Around here.
The company suspects the ship strayed into shallow water and damaged the hull when they diverted to help the Theodora.
The theory that the company came up with is that when we went to the Theodora we got ourselves into too shallow of water and we pounded the bottom.
Okay, let's hear what we got.
The coast guard listens to recordings of the captain's radio calls, relaying the marine electric's position during the Theodora rescue to verify if the theory is true.
They listen carefully as the Captain reports his position.
Coast guard, this is marine electric.
We are at position 37 degrees, 50.
1 minutes north, 74 degrees, 53.
6 minutes west.
And then check that position on the navigation chart.
53.
6 minutes west.
West.
There's no sign the Captain steered the ship into trouble.
They were in good water.
The survivors tell the same story.
They didn't hear or feel anything indicating they had run aground.
Take a hammer and hit the roof of your house and does a person in the cellar hear it? Sure they do.
Had we heard that noise, we would've been searching for any breaches in the hull, flooding, et cetera.
They had solid witnesses that, that they had their positions marked, they knew where they were, and they didn't, they didn't hit bottom.
Lauridsen and his team will have to find another theory to explain why the marine electric went down taking 31 men along with it.
The inquiry into the sinking of the marine electric has little physical evidence to work with.
The ship is at the bottom of the Atlantic.
But they do have the Captain's radio calls to the coast guard.
Coast guard, we are positively in bad shape.
They're hoping the tapes might offer a clue to what caused the disaster.
Coast guard, this is marine electric.
I am listing at 8 degrees now.
It's clear the ship lost stability fast and was on the verge of sinking by the time the Captain gave the order to abandon ship.
He seemed to recognize, I would say at the correct time, we got to get off this ship, we got to abandon ship.
He made the right decision.
I'm going down by the head.
I seem to be taking on water forward.
Stop it.
Play that back.
I'm going down by the head.
I seem to be taking on water forward.
Hmm.
Flooding down by the bow? The Captain told the coast guard he thought he had flooding in the bow.
Rise and shine! Captain wants all deck officers on the bridge! If he was right, it would explain the ship sloping toward the bow the way third mate gene Kelly remembers.
I'd been on enough ships that my senses told me that there was something different.
I could feel the, the bow was down a bit.
So it was noticeable.
But what caused the flooding in the first place? At the marine board of investigation hearing, the ship's owners present another shocking explanation.
Bulk carriers like the marine electric have massive cargo hatches.
In their testimony, the company says the crew failed to secure a hatch in the forward part of the ship.
Hatches are supposed to be watertight.
There's a big difference between watertight versus weather-tight.
Watertight is water under pressure.
Weather-tight is just the rain.
It's seamanship 101: If a hatch isn't fastened watertight, the cargo compartment could flood in heavy seas.
It might account for the low bow the Captain reported before the marine electric sank.
But one of the survivors, chief mate Bob Cusick, was in charge of the loading process.
And he knows the crew did nothing wrong.
Cusick prepares to testify before the inquiry.
He has his own theory about why the marine electric went down.
And he has no intention of letting his fellow mariners take the blame.
There was a great deal of mutual respect.
They were a team.
A lot of them had been on the ship for a long time.
And he always said they were like a band of brothers.
But Cusick faces an uphill battle.
A maritime board of inquiry, in the old days, they certainly didn't have smiles on their faces.
It wasn't a friendly conversation.
The chief mate recounts his harrowing story of survival after falling from the deck into the sea along with the crew.
He could see the hull of the ship.
Uh, he actually swam past his cabin window, which was still lit, but now it was underwater.
And he peered into his cabin window And then came up, broke the surface, looked around and saw nothing.
Court sketches capture his story.
I kept swimming, swimming.
I could hear cries All sorts of groans and cries.
And then the miraculous part about it, as you've heard, is my running across a lifeboat, and then I waited and prayed for the daylight to come.
All the time I kept yelling out, uh, 'lifeboat here, come here, lifeboat here!' Maybe that someone was there that I could, that could come over and I could drag them in.
It's an emotional account.
But it's only the beginning.
Cusick goes on to present a compelling new explanation for the sinking of the marine electric.
He was an honest man, he was an honorable man, and there's no way that he was gonna betray the memories of his shipmates by lying about that ship.
Cusick confirms the shipping company's charge that the massive hatches weren't secure, but says the company, not the crew, is to blame.
Not all the hatches were 100% secured because some of them just were not mechanically usable.
For years, Cusick has kept meticulous records of the ship's slow deterioration and presents them to the inquiry.
My father knew that ship inside and out, and he wasn't afraid to tell the truth.
Bob knew the ills of the ship.
He had lists of shipyard jobs that were not done because of budgetary cuts.
The hatches on that ship were old, warped and cracked, didn't fit properly, were supposed to have been repaired in the last shipyard period.
But they were always in bad shape.
And Bob had drawings of hatches that needed to be repaired.
He had that in his files at home.
His testimony drives the inquiry to dig deep into the ship's maintenance history, where they will find one of the shipping industry's darkest secrets.
The marine electric was a tragedy that should never have happened.
Unbelievable! Thank you.
The marine board pores over box after box of the marine electric's repair records, searching for evidence to back up chief mate Bob Cusick's claims of negligence by the ship's owners.
Cusick's records, it gave us several leads.
You're gonna go back to the company and say, 'I want all your invoices for all the repairs you've done.
We want to see everything you did or did not approve.
' You're gonna match up invoices to what was said by witnesses, by what maybe was said in past shipyards.
You're gonna go back to past shipyards, maybe even two, three years to find out, especially on the marine electric.
I'd go back at least three years.
The inquiry catches a lucky break.
One of the ship's hatch covers was replaced just three months before the disaster.
They track down the discarded hatch in a construction yard and analyze its condition.
What they find is alarming.
It was paper thin to, um, 75% wastage.
And the supporting structure was just as deteriorated.
The company had waited until it was nearly crumbling to replace it.
Cusick had testified that the company ordered repairs to the hatches and deck be done using second-rate materials, including an epoxy known as red hand, which is meant to be a temporary fix.
It's not watertight long-term, and not nearly as strong as steel.
The worn-out hatch cover backs up his claim.
The red hand was used to fill cracks, and the ship, the ship had hundreds of them, on the deck, on the sides of the hatches, on the hatch cover panels themselves; They were everywhere.
If you walked on the hatch covers, you stood a really good chance of falling through.
These hatch covers are supposed to be built to keep tons of seawater out, and there were holes in the deck that were circled so that people didn't trip over them.
It always comes back to money, doesn't it? So, we'll weld a plate over that hole, and that'll keep us going.
We'll get the repairs later, next time we're in dry dock.
Most revealing in the company records is the note of another critically degraded surface, the dry cargo hatch.
It's located at the bow, which was often submerged as the ship cut through the high waves.
Coast guard, this is marine electric.
I seem to be taking on water forward.
Makes sense.
Down by the bow! It's the missing piece of the puzzle.
Investigators now have a clear picture of the sequence of events that led to the tragedy.
Can't see a damn thing.
The serious flooding started somewhere in that early evening watch.
Waves breaking over the bow poured through the compromised dry cargo hatch and deck plating.
So spaces that shouldn't have had water filled with water.
The massive weight of water collecting in the bow then began to drag it down, exposing the enormous hatch covers behind to the raging ocean.
The hatch covers, started being hit by thousands of tons of water.
The waves poured through the degraded hatch covers and began collecting inside the hatches.
Coast guard, I'm going down by the head.
The hatches were being completely covered by water.
The rapidly flooding ship became more and more unstable and started listing to one side.
Once that happened, the vessel was lost.
Abandon ship right now! Go! We are abandoning ship right now! The inquiry now knows the marine electric was a ticking time bomb of shoddy repairs.
Yet somehow it passed inspections in February 1981 and June 1982, just seven months before the disaster.
30 minutes for an inspection.
Unbelievable! Records from the coast guard and the American bureau of shipping reveal shocking signs of rushed inspections and skipped steps.
The American bureau of shipping is the private agency that is supposed to survey the hull and show that that's safe.
It should have almost taken days; Every hatch cover, every watertight opening, every weather-tight opening should have, should have been surveyed.
There was one crack in the, in the deck, they had spray-painted a circle around it, and then the coast guard inspectors stepped over it without making any comment.
The marine board finds both the American bureau of shipping and the coast guard responsible for improper inspections and failing to acknowledge apparent damage on board the marine electric.
Incredibly, during the 40-year-old ship's last inspection, the clearly deteriorated hatch covers weren't even tested to see if they could keep out the rain A procedure typically performed with a firehose.
For a ship this old, and the conditions of the hatches, to not conduct a hose test when it's in the yard, the best I can say is negligent, at best.
Unbelievable! Investigators discover that inspectors from both agencies missed blatant evidence of poor maintenance.
It's just amazing that a ship this age, this condition, did not get the scrutiny from the regulatory agencies that it should have gotten.
One of the problems with any sort of regulation is it gets very easy to have your standards slowly drop.
The American bureau of shipping and the coast guard simply got sloppy.
But with dozens of other world war ii-era bulk carriers still in service, the coast guard will need to move fast to prevent a similar tragedy before it happens again.
Okay.
The inquiry into the marine electric tragedy not only investigates why the ship capsized, but also asks why the coast guard was unable to save more than three of the 34 men who went into the water.
A coast guard helicopter was first on the scene, but tragically, the chopper and crew weren't equipped for the task.
So a coast guard crew uh, at this time has a big helicopter that can land on water If the seas are flat enough And a rescue basket.
Those are their tools to get people from in trouble to out of trouble.
But during the marine electric disaster, the raging seas made landing impossible, and the frigid water had rendered the survivors helpless.
During the marine electric case the basket went down to people who couldn't climb into it, and now they're just guys in a helicopter turning fuel into noise and watching people not make it.
The coast guard hovered helplessly for 45 minutes until a Navy helicopter arrived with a rescue swimmer.
The Navy had to have rescue swimmers to pick up downed aviators, and here they were being used on professional mariners, and it worked.
So the congress directed that the coast guard stand up a rescue swimmer program so people could enter the water and assist victims who couldn't help themselves.
In 1984, the year following the tragedy, the coast guard established its rescue swimmer school based in Elizabeth city, north Carolina.
Today, it's the standard by which all other maritime rescue training programs are measured.
The facility can create realistic storm conditions, complete with lightning and high waves to test a trainee's ability to remain calm and focused in rescue situations.
Petty officer John Disalle is one of the school's instructors.
This is a, a fantastic training facility.
We're trying to have the situational awareness, the attention to detail, to go out there and deploy alone.
Because once you leave that helicopter, it's up to you and you only to help.
We will sound off each lap, you understand? Yes, sir! The program is physically and mentally grueling.
Of the approximately 75 candidates who sign up each year, on average less than 50% will graduate.
Now they look at these kids coming out of here as the Swiss army knife.
They've gone through twice the physical training I went through, um, they are a honed professional athlete.
As of 2017, the coast guard estimates its rescue swimmers have saved more than 21,000 lives.
And it's that motto 'so others may live, ' you know, it's not so I can, I can go home, too.
It's so, so others may live.
I'm gonna go down there, and I'm bringing some people home, um, or I'm gonna die trying.
The coast guard's final report on the marine electric disaster brings historic changes to the shipping industry as well.
Beginning in 1984, ships are now required to provide an immersion suit for each merchant marine sailing in cold waters.
Wearing one can delay the onset of hypothermia by up to six hours.
I taught ocean survival, and whenever, well, when we would get to the point in the course where we're gonna learn how to use immersion suits, I would always start out by going, okay, I'm gonna tell you a story, I'm gonna tell you a story about the marine electric and all these mariners that died, and the fact that I always get emotional Um, that you guys are lucky because you have immersion suits now.
Because these guys died, and they didn't have 'em.
The marine board's recommendations also lead to stricter inspection regulations and greater oversight by the coast guard and the American bureau of shipping.
The marine electric was an old bulk carrier that they'd let get away from themselves in terms of maintaining, particularly the hatch covers and the main deck.
The company failed, the coast guard failed, abs failed, you know, all this stuff was happening, and people have responsibility, and Cusick gave us the key to it.
Through that targeting, they were able to force more than 90 old world war ii-type ships out of service.
For Bob Cusick, who died in 2013, the sweeping changes brought at least some relief from his painful memories of the disaster.
I've often thought about how many lives my father helped to save, and I think knowing that so many of these ships were taken off the seas because of his testimony, I think that did help my father get over some of his survivor's guilt.
The legacy of the marine electric was one of the greatest reform efforts in American maritime history.
We honor the 31 that were lost.
We couldn't do anything about the loss of the vessel, but we made sure that their loss, um, was a lesson learned.