Emotions ran high on the final day of the US Coast Guard (USCG) Marine Board of Investigation (MBI) hearings into the El Faro tragedy in Jacksonville, Florida on Friday.
It began with the symbolism of 33 black ribbons on the front two-and-a-half rows of seating, one ribbon for each of the victims from the sinking of the cargo ship El Faro on October 1, 2015. In the centre front row there was a bouquet of flowers and a plaque inscribed with the words: “In loving memory of those forever in our hearts”.
Everyone in the room stood and observed a 33-second silence in tribute to the dead.
MBI investigators and lawyers for the families said how inspired they had been by the relatives of the deceased. Many of the bereaved family members attended all three of the two-week MBI hearings.
The day concluded with a group prayer and a press conference from the investigating board.
El Faro sank off the Bahamas when it lost propulsive power and was caught in Hurricane Joaquin. It had been en route from Jacksonville to San Juan in Puerto Rico.
The final day’s testimony included consideration of El Faro’s gear inventory and how the crew were concerned about the gear being insufficient. That concern was gleaned from the voyage data recorder (VDR) transcript of audio recordings of the ship’s final hours.
The VDR transcript was a central element of this third round of hearings, as it had not been available for the first two rounds, which were held in February and May of 2016, also in Jacksonville.
With the fact-gathering phase of the investigation thus concluded, the MBI next moves to the analysis stage. It will eventually make its findings known to the USCG commandant who will issue a report and recommendations.
That whole process could take another 18 months.
Apart from this USCG probe, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) plans to release a separate report of its own.