Amid El Faro Investigation, NTSB Issues Recommendations Aimed at Getting Better Weather Information to Mariners

Hurricane Joaquin is pictured off the east coast of the United States in this handout photo provided by NOAA, taken October 1, 2015, the same day the El Faro sank with the loss of 33 lives. REUTERS/NOAA/Handout via Reuters

The United States’ National Transportation Safety Board has issued 10 safety recommendations aimed at enhancing the availability of weather information to mariners amid its ongoing investigation into the 2015 sinking of the El Faro during Hurrican Joaquin.

The goal of the recommendations, which include improving weather forecasting methods and increasing the frequency of certain advisories and alerts, is to improve the accuracy of hurricane and tropical cyclone forecasts and make them more accessible to voyage planners and at-sea mariners.

“As we enter the 2017 hurricane season we are reminded of the power and devastation associated with these storms,” said NTSB Acting Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. “Storm avoidance is a life-saving skill at sea. And having frequent, up-to-date and reliable weather information is key to effective storm avoidance – and to saving lives.”

The NTSB said the recommendations stem from its ongoing investigation of the October 2015 sinking of the American cargo ship El Faro near the Bahamas as the ship sailed close to the eye of Hurricane Joaquin. All 33 crew members perished in the sinking. 

The NTSB typically releases safety recommendations at the conclusion of an investigation but can issue them at any point in the investigative process. But after noting how Hurricane Joaquin and several other major storms had significantly deviated from their forecasts, NTSB investigators have determined that a new emphasis on improving tropical cyclone forecasting was warranted.

“We are getting these recommendations out as the hurricane season begins so that the work on these safety improvements can start immediately,” said Sumwalt.

The El Faro investigation is expected to be completed later this year when investigators will present their findings to NTSB Members who will determine the accident’s probable cause and contributing factors in a public meeting in Washington, D.C.

In May, several insurance companies filed a $7 million lawsuit against the company hired by El Faro’s owner to provide weather forecasting equipment and information to the El Faro. The suit, filed in Florida federal court, alleges the system used by El Faro, “provided delayed, inaccurate, and misleading information the Vessel about the position of the storm and was a substantial factor in the Vessel sailing nearly directly into the eye of the hurricane.”

The topic of weather forecasting and routing are obviously critical components of the ongoing investigations by both the NTSB and the U.S. Coast Guard into the sinking.

The safety recommendations issued to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service and the U.S. Coast Guard are available at https://go.usa.gov/xNsWb.

The NTSB also issued a Safety Alert advising mariners of available weather forecast products and alerts that can help in assessing the track and severity of hazardous weather systems.  The Safety Alert is available online at: https://go.usa.gov/xNsWa.