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'Nova: Why Ships Sink,' on PBS

The Titanic Museum photo from

The Titanic Museum photo from "Why Ships Sink," on PBS's Nova. Photo Credit: WGBH

THE DOCUMENTARY "Nova: Why Ships Sink"

WHEN | WHERE Wednesday at 9 on WNET/13

REASON TO WATCH "Nova" gets into the bowels of cruise ships -- and doesn't like what it sees.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The cruise ship Costa Concordia partially sank off the coast of Italy, with the loss of 32 lives -- a century after the sinking of the Titanic -- with this broadcast establishing "astonishing similarities" between both. Such as: Both ships filled with water having been gashed above the waterline, and suffered failures of leadership at the worst possible moments.

So, "Nova" asks, could more accidents happen? Some developments would seem ominous, notably that -- as the show reports -- modern cruise ships are extremely tall, displacing their center of gravity. The higher center of gravity reduces the roll but increases the possibility of capsizing. The show also ran several tests of steel -- modern steel and Titanic-era steel -- and the comforting news is that modern steel is seven times stronger. However, that didn't help the Costa Concordia, which brushed against an underwater rock outcrop. Divers later discovered a buckled strip of steel that had been sheered from the ship's side.

MY SAY Before you book that dream-of-a-lifetime cruise, best check out this timely broadcast that says be worried, but not too worried. The overall message (besides that one) is sober and common-sensical. Ships float and sometimes floating things sink. Technology has reduced the risk of cruise ship accidents but, as experts here warn, all the technology in the world can't eliminate human error. The industry has grown so rapidly that relatively inexperienced captains (such as the Costa Concordia's now vilified Francesco Schettino) have achieved commands, says "Nova." But even Schettino apparently managed one massive lifesaving feat -- by beaching the boat after the accident, according to the show (there's a good ticktock here of the accident and its aftermath).

One other cautionary move before you book that trip -- check to see if musician Moss Hills is on the passenger manifest. Mills heroically saved passengers on two stricken ships -- the misbegotten Achille Lauro, which sank in 1994, and the Oceanos, which sank in 1991. He's also interviewed -- and says he loves cruise ship work.

BOTTOM LINE Interesting and informative.



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