Federal investigators asked a former officer on the El Faro on Friday about the ship’s captain, about his responsiveness when calling him overnight, and about whether crew members were getting the required rest before working night watch shifts.
Alejandro Berrios, who worked as both a second mate and third mate on the ship, testified Friday before the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation probing the El Faro sinking Oct. 1, 2015, during Hurricane Joaquin that killed all 33 on board.
Board member Keith Fawcett had Berrios review logs to show some officers on duty were not receiving the required amount of rest. Berrios acknowledged that during the rest time, crew members are not required to sleep.
“I am aware of it now. I was not aware of it back then,” Berrios said when asked about federal requirements for rest before going on watch.
“For me, rest is not working. That is the short version of it, but also being on bed with my feet off the deck. Eyes closed,” Berrios said. “That is rest for me. Listening to music. Taking a shower. If I am sleeping, then that’ll be taking faster rest. That is me, I can’t speak for someone else.”
Berrios talked about sailing with El Faro captain Michael Davidson.
On the transcribed audio of the final hours of the El Faro, two officers called Davidson overnight while he was in his cabin to update him about their concerns about approaching Hurricane Joaquin. Davidson was asleep at least one of those times when the mates called.
Berrios served on the night watch when Davidson was captain. He said he would call the captain at night if needed and recalled one time he called Davidson and he came up to the navigation bridge. Berrios said it was not a challenge to wake Davidson when he called overnight.
“He would pick up the phone right away and sound alive, positive and happy that you make that phone call,” he said. The captain would tell him “I’ll be right up.”
“At all times he was available and would come up to the bridge,” Berrios said.
Davidson, despite the nearing hurricane and two calls from officers, did not appear to return to the navigation bridge during several critical hours. He was at the helm in the final three hours.
When asked about his handling of emergency drills, Berrios said Davidson would monitor drills. He said all personnel were wearing life jackets during emergency drills on the El Faro.
Berrios believes there were two life jackets on the navigation bridge and their location was marked.
Davidson would often make himself available to take over a watch shift to ensure other officers had sufficient rest, Berrios said.
The two-week hearing continues from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays through Feb. 17 at the Prime Osborn Convention Center, 1000 Water St.
The public can attend the hearing, which can also be viewed on a live stream at: livestream.com/USCGInvestigations.
Sebastian Kitchen: (904) 359-4161