Coast Guard Schedules Final El Faro Hearing In Wake of VDR Transcript

The El Faro is shown in this undated handout photo provided by Tote Maritime in Jacksonville, Florida, October 2, 2015. Photo: Tote Maritime
The SS El Faro is shown in this undated handout photo provided by Tote Maritime in Jacksonville, Florida, October 2, 2015. Photo: Tote Maritime

With the NTSB’s release of the El Faro’s VDR transcripts by the NTSB on Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard has scheduled its third and final round of Marine Board of Investigation into the 2015 sinking of the vessel.

As we reported on Tuesday the NTSB opened the docket on its investigation into the loss of the ship and its 33 crew members during Hurricane Joaquin. The docket contains five factual reports covering various parts of the investigation, and of course the release of a 510-page transcripts of 26 hours of bridge audio recordings from the final voyage recovered from the ship’s voyage data recorder.

SEE: NTSB Releases El Faro VDR Bridge Audio Transcript

A U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation is conducting its own investigation to determine as closely as possible the factors that contributed to the incident and propose corrective actions in order to prevent those conditions from causing or contributing to future casualties.

The Marine Board has already held two public hearings into the loss of the ship and, in wake of the VDR transcripts and other factual reports, a third hearing has now been scheduled to take place in February 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida.

The Coast Guard says the final hearing session will examine additional elements of the investigation, “including but not limited to questions arising from the contents of the El Faro’s VDR, as well as additional witnesses such as former crewmembers, TOTE company officials, Coast Guard personnel and others.”

Also on Tuesday, the Coast Guard released the findings of the Research and Development Center’s immersion suit test, conducted to study immersion suit endurance after issues arose during the search for El Faro’s crew members. According to the report, the test showed that “tethered, but free-floating mannequins, in the same type of immersion suits El Faro carried, remained afloat in the water for a two-week period.”

After the ship sank, an exhaustive search for survivors covering more than 183,000 square nautical miles was suspended after 6 days. Early on in the search Coast Guard crews located a deceased person inside a survival suit, but the victim was unable to be recovered. No other crew members have been located or recovered.

The 740-foot SS El Faro sank off the Bahamas on October 1, 2015 after sailing into the center of Hurricane Joaquin during a voyage from Jacksonville, Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico. All 33 people on board, comprising of 27 American crew members and five Polish contractors, perished in the accident.

The ship’s VDR was recovered from the ocean floor in August following a 10-month effort to locate and document the El Faro’s wreckage and retrieve the recorder.