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Second round of El Faro hearings comes to an end

A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator on Friday attempted to re-cast his Thursday comment about the “colossal failure” of management in the case of the El Faro sinking.

Tom Roth-Roffy said he should have chosen his phrasing more carefully in the first instance, telling the US Coast Guard’s (USCG) Marine Board of Investigation in Jacksonville, Florida, he had not meant to give the impression he was blaming the ship’s owners Tote while he was questioning Tote executive vice president Peter Keller on Thursday.

The investigation concluded its second round with Friday’s testimony, the 10th day. It has not yet arrived at any conclusions and Roth-Roffy said that neither has the NTSB.

The El Faro, a cargo vessel carrying cars from Jacksonville to San Juan in Puerto Rico was caught in Hurricane Joaquin and went down off the Bahamas on October 1, 2015 with the loss of all 33 crew members.

Many family members of the deceased attending Friday’s wrap up, wore matching shirts and held wooden anchors bearing the victims’ names in a gesture of solidarity.

In the past two weeks the panel has heard that: El Faro had outdated weather data and inaccurate storm-tracking information; the ship’s captain, not knowing it would intensify into a hurricane, had intended to avoid the forecast storm; ABS, the third party that performed El Faro’s last inspection for the USCG, found everything in order on the ship; a former captain of the El Faro said it had stability problems and an unreliable boiler.

With the conclusion of this round of hearings – the first one was in February – the USCG has promised one more round, at a date to be determined. It is hoped that the ship’s voyage data recorder will have been recovered an analyzed in time for that round of hearings. The VDR has already been located but needs a separate mission to retrieve it.

The panel is concerned with identifying the cause of the disaster and any possible negligence or misconduct. It can also suggest better safety practices that could help avoid a repeat.

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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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