NOVA “Why Ships Crash”

Premieres May 18 at 8 p.m.

In the early hours of March 23 2021, the colossal Ever Given container ship, one of the world’s largest cargo vessels, was sailing through the Suez Canal when it was thrown off course. Its hull crashed into the sandbank and the ship became wedged diagonally across the canal. The blockage shut down this vital commercial artery for almost a week and caused the build-up of a “ship jam” of more than 400 vessels. International supply chains ground to a halt, sparking fuel shortages and jeopardizing deliveries of everything from computers and cars to food, clothes, and medical supplies.

While Egyptian authorities finally allowed Ever Given to resume its voyage after the owners paid an undisclosed fine, the wider implications of the incident are far from over. It reveals the importance and fragility of international trade networks, including critical “just in time” supply chains. It also highlights how often these immense vessels run into trouble: around 2,500 ships crash each year, with an average of 100 vessels sinking or becoming stranded. Are modern ships becoming too big for the historic canals and antiquated ports in which they operate? Could the culture of ship operators, in which Captain’s decisions are rarely questioned, also be to blame?

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