Hull Cracks & Oil Spills From El Faro’s 46 Year Old Sister Ship

Matson Matsonia
Photo of the S/S Matsonia by Susan Yamamoto via MarineTraffic

Thursday morning, shortly after mooring in Oakland, the hull of the 1,727 TEU Matson containership S/S Matsonia cracked spilling heavy fuel oil into San Francisco Bay.

The vessel was built in 1973 by Sun Shipbuilding, one year before the doomed El Faro at the same shipyard using the same basic hull design. 

On Thursday the Matsonia’s crew, noticed a sheen surrounding the vessel around 8 a.m., initiated the vessel response plan and deployed an oil boom around the ship.

Divers soon discovered a fracture in the hull of the ship approximately 15-feet below the waterline adjacent to the starboard fuel tank.

On Friday Matson completed a transfer of the heavy fuel oil from the damaged tank to other fuel tanks throughout the ship to reduce the flow of leaking oil.

Coast Guard marine inspectors are scheduled to inspect the vessel and oversee repairs once the fuel tank has been deemed safe to enter.

The loss of the Matsonia’s sistership EL FARO, along with its 33 member crew, ranks as one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history, and resulted in the highest death toll from a U.S. commercial vessel sinking in almost 40 years.

Into the Raging Sea Book Cover
Related Book: Into the Raging Sea by Rachel Slade

Since the Matsonia is older than the El Faro it is unclear why the US Coast Guard has allowed the ship to continue sailing considering, in his report on the El Faro investigation finding, the USCG Commandant Admiral Zukunft statedthese two factors (vessel age and ship type) were the leading risk indicators that resulted in the EL FARO being placed at the threshold for inclusion on the targeted vessel list.”

It is also not clear what caused the crack, if the ship’s structural issues were previously known to inspectors and why her hull conditions were not more closely monitored or scrapped after the El Faro findings. Nor is it clear why Matson has not followed several of the recommendations of the USCG and NTSB investigation reports including upgrading the Matsonia’s open lifeboats.  

Perhaps it is because the Commandant’s orders in the wake of the El Faro made those recommendations unclear and ambiguous