Tote failed to notify ABS of El Faro equipment add-ons, panel hears

Tote failed to notify ABS of El Faro equipment add-ons, panel hears

El Faro’s owners failed to notify surveyors of some hefty additions to equipment on board. However, although the changes added to the ship’s weight by many tons, they are unlikely to have disturbed the ship’s stability, a witness on Friday told the hearing into the tragic sinking of the cargo vessel.

The US Coast Guard (USCG) Marine Board of Investigation concluded its first week of this, its second round of hearings, by examining a spokesman for American Bureau of Shipping (ABS). ABS inspected the El Faro in June 2015 and found nothing untoward.

On October 1, 2015, the El Faro was caught in Hurricane Joaquin and sank off the Bahamas with the loss of all 33 crew members. It had lost propulsive power. Its wreckage was found a month later 15,000 feet down on the ocean floor broken into two main parts.

It had been delivering a cargo of cars from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

ABS representative Thomas Gruber testified that ABS had not been informed by the El Faro’s owners Tote of some equipment additions made in 2014 when the company added tanks to haul fructose and also added some other equipment preparing the ship for conversion to Alaskan routes.

Tote had a responsibility to tell ABS of those changes so that ABS could update its computer model to assess any possible destabilizing effects, Gruber told the hearing at the Prime Osborn Convention Center in Jacksonville.

However, Gruber added that it would have taken an addition of around 400 tons to make a significant negative impact in this regard, and the additions made amounted to only around 100 tons.

On Tuesday the Board heard a former captain of the El Faro, Jack Hearn, say he had been concerned about the ship’s stability.

On Thursday senior surveyor from ABS, Mark LaRose, told the Board he had seen nothing irregular when he inspected El Faro in June.

The hearings are expected to continue for another week.

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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