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US Coast Guard admits poor response to El Faro distress calls

At the eighth day into the hearing on the sinking of the El Faro last October, US Coast Guard officials admitted they did not think the ship was likely to sink initially, and there were problems with their computers while getting a response plan together.

The 40-year-old ship, owned by Tote, sank on October 1 in the midst of a hurricane with the loss of the 33 crew onboard.

It emerged that El Faro’s captain, Michael Davidson, told Tote’s designated person ashore, Captain John Lawrence, he thought the crew would be able to pump out water coming into the ship, according to testimony. This information was relayed to the coast guard. After a while, however, when the coast guard was unable to contact the ship, officials realised the situation was a grave one. It was at this point that the coast guard suffered a software glitch and had to resort to paper charts in its initial rescue planning phase.

The investigating board can levy civil charges, and will forward any evidence of criminal misconduct to the US Department of Justice. Thus far, the board has not uncovered any such evidence, its chairman said yesterday.

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Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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