Final El Faro report lashes both captain and owner

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Tuesday released its findings about the 2015 sinking of cargo ship El Faro with the loss of all 33 crew.

El Faro went down off the Bahamas when caught in Hurricane Joaquin on 1 October, 2015. The 790-foot ship was en route from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico with a cargo of cars and other items when it was lost.

The vessel was found on the seafloor a month after the tragedy and its voyage data recorder (VDR), which would provide much useful information to the investigation, was retrieved in August 2016.

After a lengthy investigation of around two years, NTSB found that El Faro’s captain, Michael Davidson, was relying on out-of-date information about the hurricane and failed on three occasions to heed suggestions from other officers on board that the ship should change course. He also left it too late before issuing the abandon ship order, the report found.

But the captain was far from alone in contributing to El Faro’s misfortune. The NTSB also found fault with the ship’s owner Tote for failing to monitor the El Faro’s position relative to the hurricane and not offering support as the storm bore down.

NTSB’s report said Tote did not provide adequate training and had “a weak safety culture”.

And it failed to keep El Faro up to modern safety standards, notably not switching the vessel’s lifeboats from the old-fashioned open variety to the enclosed ones that offer greater protection.

Another target for criticism was the US Coast Guard’s (USCG) compliance program, which NTSB faulted for being ineffective in ensuring vessels meet safety standards.

The NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt offered the hope that his body’s findings could help prevent similar tragedies in the future.

“This report will be studied by mariners young and old for many years,” Sumwalt said in his opening statement. “And I’m confident that this tragedy at sea, and the lessons from this investigation, will help improve safety for future generations of mariners.”

A separate report into the El Faro tragedy was issued in October by the USCG’s Marine Board of Investigation (MBI).

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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