El Yunque

El Faro MBI Report – Heavy On Blame, Light On Penalty

John Konrad
Total Views: 71
October 1, 2017

Photo: James Balboni

by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) Today the United States Coast Guard issued the Marine Board of Investigation (MBI) report on the S.S. El Faro. The 189 page report reveals serious failures by Tote managers, USCG personnel and the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) but recommended few penalties against them.

Some marine experts assumed the report would recommend that Tote be investigated for criminal offenses leading up to the sinking of the El Faro but, the final section of the report titled “Enforcement Recommendations”, made only a single suggestion. The report states, “It is recommended that Sector Jacksonville initiate civil penalty action against TOTE Services for the following offenses.”

The report dedicates several pages of text to the failings of the Alternate Compliance Program (ACP), a program the Coast Guard began implementing in 1995, following requests from U.S. shipowners to reduce the duplication of effort between Coast Guard inspections and classification society surveys, which “caused extra costs to U.S. vessel owners”.

Despite these problems the MBI recommended no administrative or punitive action against any Coast Guard personnel or ABS employee.

Also missing is any mention of the Marine Electric investigation report which stated “Recommendations: 1: That the examination of U.S. merchant vessels… be conducted and determined by knowledgable members of a U.S. Government agency. The responsibilities for these functions should not be delegated or entrusted to the private sector.

Questions not answered by the El Faro report are numerous. Why did the USCG and ABS agree to a program of inspection that directly contradicts to their own previous MBI report? Why was the Marine Electric incident not mentioned? Who at the USCG and ABS signed off on the ACP plan? Why did the USCG dedicate government resources developing a plan to reduce the duplication of inspections for the sole reason they “caused extra costs to U.S. vessel owners”?

Why does the El Faro report not recommend ending ACP altogether? Why does the USCG report fail to make a single enforcement recommendation that relates to ACP? Why are there no recommendations for criminal penalties? 

What other lessons from previous marine incidents have been ignored? Will future casualty investigations ignore this report?

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