NTSB releases new reports on El Faro

El Faro sank nearly two years ago after it sailed into the path of Hurricane Joaquin.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The NTSB released several new documents and reports Friday in its ongoing investigation into the sinking of El Faro.

The cargo ship sank near the Bahamas in October 2015 on a route from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico. The ship sailed into the path of Hurricane Joaquin; all 33 on board died.

One report, called the wreckage trajectory study, outlines the calculations used to determine the location and recover the voyage data recorder.

A second report, the Human Factors Group report, was more than 90 pages and outlined crew training, procedures, roles and decision-making protocol.

The report detailed how managers at TOTE Maritime, the company that owned El Faro, repeatedly told investigators the captain could make any and all decisions related to the ship’s operations.

The report also contained text messages and emails from the captain, showing he was aware of the impending storm but didn’t anticipate it causing much trouble.

“The pressures that were on the captain, in particular, over his performance and the fact that he may not have a job in the future may have affected his decision making,” said Rod Sullivan, a Jacksonville maritime attorney.

Sullivan represented the family of one of the men who died on El Faro in a case that has settled.

Sullivan’s comment referred to the captain’s uncertainty of his future with TOTE.

“They had new ships coming out and many of the officers on the El Faro weren’t going to be assigned to the new ships and were going to be looking for jobs elsewhere,” he said.

The report included an email in which the captain expressed concerns over the future and whether he would get one of the coveted spots on the new ships.

“If he did a good job with this voyage, he might get a job with the company in the future,” Sullivan said. “If he messed up, if he turned the ship around, it might be the end of his maritime career. That’s a lot of pressure for somebody to have.”

The report said TOTE’s business increased after a competitor shut down in December, 2014. Additionally, delivering cargo on-time was one of TOTE’s stated goals.

According to the report, investigators asked several TOTE employees about pressure to make the voyages on time. The employees said TOTE did not put pressure on crews to meet arrival times and neither companies nor individuals were punished if they arrived late.

The report also detailed crew fatigue. A chief engineer told his wife he was exhausted from all the maintenance and issues with the ship in the weeks leading up to El Faro’s final voyage, according to the report. The wife noted that on this particular tour, she rarely spoke to her husband because he was so busy.

Two friends of El Faro’s second mate told investigators she had complained to them about fatigue.

According to the report, El Faro’s officers worked 12-hour days while on the ship. Typical work schedules consisted of a rotation of 10 weeks on, 10 weeks off.

Data regarding the work hours of the crew on El Faro’s final voyage was not available, but the two weeks prior the average workday for officers was 12.5 hours. The two weeks before that, it was 13 hours.

Additionally, the report stated investigators identified several times in the voyage data recorder transcripts where crew members discussed being tired.

The full NTSB report is expected to be released late this year.

 

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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