Beyond the “Deadly Neglect” Documentary

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The Smithsonian Channel’s well done “Deadly Neglect” documentary on the loss of the SS Marine Electric does a first rate job in retelling the story — the best documentary on the topic I’ve seen.

Beyond the shipwreck itself of course, I’d note only these complexities:

1.) The poor inspections of the Marine Electric were not a “one-up.” The Coast Guard had systematically caved into ship operators for more than three decades, under intense pressure from unions, owners, shipyards and congressmen, to let WWII rust buckets sail. The culture held that holding the ships up was unpatriotic, cost jobs and represented “government regulation.”

2.) The report being issued at all was a near thing. Captain Dom Calicchio, a former merchant mariner serving in the Coast Guard, said he would release the report on his own if the Coast Guard brass did not make it public.

3.) A chief issue then and now is whether the private American Bureau of Shipping can adequately perform inspections and surveys. The Marine Board said it had failed. And 30 years later, in the case of the SS El Faro, another MBI had concluded the same.

4.) The era of safety ushered in by the SS Marine Electric was significant but the industry still runs ships far past their prime — some more than 40 years old.

Really can’t fault the doc for not making some of these points. The director had about an hour to convey a lot through images and words. They did a really nice job — neither sensationalizing nor over-stating. My hat is off to them.

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