US Coast Guard (USCG) hearings into the El Faro sinking began on Tuesday in Jacksonville, Florida, with an executive of the vessel’s owner company saying that the ship’s captain had final say in matters of safety, when to sail and what route to take.
The captain, Michael Davidson, was one of the 33 crew members all lost on October 1, 2015, when the cargo ship went down off the Bahamas in Hurricane Joaquin.
A month later the wreck was found broken into two parts at the bottom of the sea.
Tuesday’s hearing to find out who bears responsibility for the ship being caught in the middle of the hurricane, heard from Philip Morrell, vice president for commercial marine operations at Tote Services, the El Faro’s owner.
Morrell said: “That’s all managed by the captain. He has total responsibility for that work,” regarding those matters of whether and when to sail and by what route.
The 790-foot, US-flagged El Faro was en route from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico with a cargo of cars when its power failed, leaving it at the mercy of the storm.
This hearing is scheduled to last 10 days with another hearing on aspects such as cargo loading, weather conditions and navigation to be held at date to be determined.
Several families of lost crew members have filed lawsuits against Tote on the grounds the vessel was not seaworthy. Around a dozen family members were at Tuesday’s first day of the hearing.
Last week the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced it will launch a second search attempt for the Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) in April. A first attempt in November failed to find the VDR.