Second El Faro Investigation Hearings Set for Later This Month

ss el faro
SS El Faro. Photo: Tote Maritime

A U.S. Coast Guard investigation board is getting ready to hold its second round of hearings later this month on its probe into the loss of the American cargo ship EL Faro and its crewmembers.

The second session of the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation hearings will focus on shipboard operations, cargo loading, lashing and stowage operations for the accident voyage, as while as examine the vessel’s analysis of stability and weather conditions forecasted as compared to what was encountered. The hearing will also be looking into the regulatory oversight for the El Faro will be examined to determine and potential implications of that oversight on the accident voyage. The second session will involve 10 days of testimony beginning Monday, May 16 and lasting through Friday, May 27.

A third hearing, yet to be scheduled, date will examine additional elements of the investigation including crew witnesses,
TOTE company officials and the contents of the El Faro’s Voyage Data Recorder if the device can be recovered and analyzed.

Last week, a team from the NTSB and scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute located the VDR in a debris field about 450 meters from main part of the wreck. The NTSB has said it will need launch another mission to recover the device in hopes of retrieving information about the ship’s final voyage and the moments leading up to the sinking and after communication was lost with the ship.

The 790-foot, U.S.-flagged El Faro sank October 1, 2015, during Hurricane Joaquin while sailing from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico. All 33 crewmembers aboard were killed in the accident.

The Marine Board investigation is seeking to determine as closely as possible the factors that contributed to the accident; whether there is evidence that any act of misconduct, inattention to duty, negligence or willful violation of the law on the part of any licensed or certificated person contributed to the casualty; and whether there is evidence that any Coast Guard personnel or any representative or employee of any other government agency or any other person caused or contributed to the casualty.

The first session of the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation hearings, held in February, focused on the pre-accident historical events relating to the loss, the regulatory compliance record of the El Faro, crewmember duties and qualifications, past operations of the vessel and the Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue operations.

The NTSB is conducting its own investigation, but will fully participate in the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation hearings.