Grand Angle Productions

SOS Vessel in distress!


SOS is the ultimate cry for help of a crew in distress. Royal ships, supposedly unsinkable vessels, abandoned crews, ecological disasters, unexplained disappearances, abysses and remains require additional decoding… Using the latest technologies, and with the assistance of the finest archeologists, historians and naval engineers, this documentary series retraces, minute by minute, the exact circumstances of these disasters. The chain of events leading to the wreck is decoded at a breathtaking pace.  Time is relentless and suspense awaits at every turn. 


Every year, more than 50,000 ships plow the seas of the globe and some of them pose a permanent threat to the environment. This is especially the case of oil tankers, which connect the countries producing the black gold with the refineries of the entire world. Two wrecks of such supertankers have gone down in history for having created the biggest oil spills ever seen in Europe.

On December 12 1999, the Erika, a tanker with a cargo of 31,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, was caught in an exceptional storm off St-Nazaire and finally sank, spilling thousands of tons of oil along 400km of coastline. Some twenty years earlier, in 1978, an identical wreck had already fouled the coasts of Brittany.  The tanker’s name was the Amoco Cadiz and its wreck created an unprecedented ecological disaster.


Every sailor who travels the Mediterranean knows that you can never trust appearances with this tranquil sea. From the islands of the Aegean Sea to the Strait of Gibraltar, when the wind blows this paradisiacal seascape can rapidly transform into a veritable hell. In 1855, caught in a hurricane of the coast of Corsica, the frigate Sémillante, shatters on the reefs of a tiny archipelago with not a single survivor among the 700 crew and military on board. 

A century later, it’s close to the Balearic Islands that the steamship Lamoricière, after having gone to the assistance of a small freighter in difficulty, sinks in the middle of a storm taking to their graves nearly 300 souls, including a good number of children. A tragedy that is forever etched in memory.


In the 17th century, huge sailing ships plowed the world’s oceans to impose the rule of kings by cannon fire. Archives of the period tell of numerous maritime disasters. However, some almost fell into oblivion. In November 1664, the frigate, La Lune, with 800 soldiers on board to be evacuated from Algeria to France, sinks within a few minutes near Toulon, for some mysterious reason, drowning nearly 700 men. 

A few years earlier, the Vasa casts off with great pomp for its maiden voyage. Suddenly, a simple gust of wind capsizes the Vasa, which sinks like a stone into the waters of the harbor of Stockholm before the eyes of the stunned crowd. It will require a wait of four centuries till the discoveries of the wrecks of the Vasa and La Lune finally reveal the conditions of their mysterious disappearances.


Among all the shipwrecks that have cast the shadow of grief over the oceans throughout history, some have a special character: their victims have remained imprisoned within the bowels of the vessels, transforming their wrecks into veritable underwater graveyards. On June 11 1940, the Niobe, a ship evacuating the inhabitants of Le Havre fleeing the German army, was hit by four bombs. The ship sank within minutes, taking with her more than 1,000 souls.

62 years later, in September 2002, to the south of Senegal, the ferry, Le Joola, which provided passage between Casamance and Dakar, suddenly capsized off the coast before turning turtle completely. Trapped inside, more than 2,000 passengers met their deaths in the wreck. A look back at two shipwrecks whose victims still lie at the bottom of the sea, turning these wrecks into eternal underwater graveyards.


Ever since the dawn of time, mariners have known that a shipwreck can be caused by many things: storms, reefs, damage, human error, etc. However, certain vessels have sunk for reasons that are still a mystery many years later. A look back at two shipwrecks that left their mark on French maritime history: the French trawler, the Bugaled Breizh and the steamship Afrique. Two sinkings that remain unexplained today and which for many still hold the bitter taste of a State secret.


On all the seas of the world they say that the captain is the sole master aboard, after God. In other words, he has the power not only to command, but also, if need be, the duty of organizing the rescue of his passengers and crew. And the rule, an age-old one, is that he is last to leave the ship.  And yet this is not always the case… two notorious examples provide tragic evidence. A fresh look at the legendary stories of the Costa Concordia and The Raft of the Medusa.


Ever since they were invented at the end of the 19th century, submarines have always held a unique place in maritime history. All mariners acknowledge that it requires a very special courage to dive into the depths of the abyss enclosed in a steel hull. Because, under water, the least incident can quickly turn to tragedy. The U-171 and the Vendemiaire: two submarines, two, now legendary wrecks bear witness to that.


Whatever the circumstances, the place where they happen or the toll, all shipwrecks are tragic. However, some, for many reasons, go down in history and become veritable legends. In April 1912, while on its maiden voyage, the RMS Titanic hits an iceberg. Two hours and forty minutes later, the biggest and most luxurious liner of its age sinks.

In 1936, twenty-four years after the sinking of the Titanic, another ship enters the world of legend when it sinks just a few hundred yards from the coast of Iceland. It was the “Pourquoi Pas” and on board is its famous captain: the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot. Titanic in 1912, Pourquoi Pas in 1936…  a look back on two shipwrecks that have carved their names for all time in the list of the most famous tragedies in maritime history.

Data sheet

Poster of SOS Vessel in distress!

Directors : Herlé Jouon & Antoine Laura 

Producers : Grand Angle Productions 

Co-producers : RMC Découverte 

Format : HD2018 • 8x52'