Vessel owner Tote Maritime’s emergency call centre had been criticized weeks before the fatal sinking of cargo ship El Faro, the US Coast Guard (USCG) Marine Board of Investigation (MBI) heard as the hearing resumed on Monday.
Tote’s head of marine safety at the time, Lee Peterson, told the hearing in Jacksonville, Florida, that he was aware the El Faro’s captain Michael Davidson had previously complained about the call system. But asked why the call centre problems were not rectified, Peterson could say only: “I don’t have an answer to your particular question.”
In a recording of his call to the call centre when the ship got into trouble on its final journey (which was heard at a previous round of MBI hearings), Davidson is asked by the operator to repeat things and is several times put on hold.
At one point Davidson says “the clock is ticking”.
John Lawrence, Tote’s then-manager of safety and operations, testified on Monday that the call centre system worked as intended with the operator keeping the captain on the line and gathering basic information while sending e-mail and text to the company’s emergency response team.
El Faro went down in Hurricane Joaquin off the Bahamas on October 1, 2015, with the loss of all 33 crew members. It had lost propulsive power. The ship had been en route from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Monday’s session marked the beginning of the second and final week of the third and final set of hearings into the disaster.
Peterson was also asked about what he thought happened to the ship’s boilers to cause the loss of propulsion and about whether requirements on crew rest times were complied with.
He could not offer any definitive answers.