Boiler explosion theory mooted, crew’s rest times examined in El Faro hearing

The first week of the third and final round of US Coast Guard (USCG) Marine Board of Investigation (MBI) hearings into the El Faro disaster heard testimony that there could have been a boiler explosion on the cargo vessel.

El Faro sank off the Bahamas on October 1, 2015, when it was caught in Hurricane Joaquin and lost propulsive power. All 33 crew members died.

The hearing in Jacksonville heard on Friday from Lou O’Donnell, assistant chief surveyor with the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) – the classification society that carried out inspections of El Faro for USCG.

O’Donnell said it was possible that flooding of the ship’s engine room with cold water could have caused catastrophic damage to its boilers, even an explosion.

When asked by Board Chair Captain Jason Neubauer if such an explosion could account for the upper decks of the bridge being detached from the rest of the ship, as happened, O’Donnell said it was possible but he could not be certain.

The hearing also heard from a former third mate on El Faro, Alejandro Berrios. He was questioned about whether the ship’s captain Michael Davidson promoted a culture of safety on board. Berrios said “All the time”.

Several questions concerned whether or not crew members were getting enough rest or were tired on duty.

Berrios acknowledged that some logs showed officers getting only four hours of rest but he said that he always felt that he was allowed enough sleep.

When asked whether or not it was difficult to wake Captain Davidson when necessary, Berrios said: “He would pick up the phone right away and sound alive, positive and happy that you make that phone call… At all times, he was available and would come up to the bridge.”

Berrios added that Davidson would offer to stand watches if any of the mates were feeling fatigued – even if they were meeting their required hours of rest.

The hearing will resume on Monday and continue until Friday (February 17).

Donal Scully

With 28 years experience writing and editing for newspapers in the UK and Hong Kong, Donal is now based in California from where he covers the Americas for Splash as well as ensuring the site is loaded through the Western Hemisphere timezone.
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