E-mails cause objection, anger and regret on day four of El Faro hearing

A witness objected to one line of questioning and attempted to clarify a previously presented item of evidence on Friday’s fourth day of hearings into the El Faro disaster.

In Friday’s session an official of the ship’s owner Tote Services took exception to being confronted with an e-mail he had sent regarding El Faro’s captain on the fatal voyage, Michael Davidson.

In the contested e-mail, Tote’s director of ship management John Fisker-Andersen referred to Davidson as “a statehouse captain”, taken to mean Davidson was not available to crew and was seldom seen around the deck.

Fisker-Andersen reacted angrily, saying that it was a private e-mail and he objected to answering.

And William Bennett, an attorney representing Davidson’s widow, objected to the introduction by a USCG investigator of a different e-mail in which Davidson’s proficiency as a captain was questioned.

Bennett said that the introduction of that second e-mail, which Fisker-Andersen had never seen, amounted to no more than rumour, whereas previous testimony had already established Davidson’s ample qualifications for the job. That e-mail was set aside by the investigating board.

The panel also went back over a previously examined e-mail in which Davidson contacted Tote to ask about changing his return route from San Juan – a journey he never got to make.

Fisker-Andersen’s e-mail reply then said “Authorized” but in Friday’s revisiting of that, Fisker-Andersen said he regretted his choice of word because the ship’s captain had full autonomy on decisions about routes taken and did not need authorizing from anybody at the company.

The day’s testimony also covered the condition of the ship’s boilers which were due for maintenance after what proved to be the fatal voyage. Fisker-Andersen said that the work needed on the boilers was not major.

The hearing, in Jacksonville, will continue on Saturday and take Sunday off before resuming on Monday for the final four or possibly five days.

This investigation could result in civil charges or, if criminal actions are found, could lead to criminal charges from the US Department of Justice.

Also on Friday, a widow of one of the lost crew held a press conference outside the hearing to call for the creation of a third party body with strict oversight of shipping companies’ and vessel captains’ decisions to sail in adverse weather.

Rochelle Hamm, widow of crewman Frank Hamm, likened the concept to the role of air traffic controllers for aeroplanes.

She is gathering a petition of signatures to start the ball rolling for legislation, which she would like to see named “The Hamm Alert”.

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.


  1. One cannot blame the widows for trying to tag blame for this disaster on Tote, but the Captain chose the route and the Captain chose to sail and his judgement was just plain bad. Unless they have an email from Tote pressuring the Captain to sail there certainly should not be criminal charges. We were in Miami during the storm and the Captain imho exhibited bad judgment, perhaps criminally bad judgment. But doesn’t the buck stop there?

    1. I’d like to correct myself – I should not say “widows” because there was all kinds of people and family effected by this disaster. Please accept my apologies. Should have said “One cannot blame grieving family and friends of the seafarers of the El Faro” – and my condolences to each and every one of them.

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