Home » Merchant Marine » VIDEO: NTSB Investigators Cite Poor Seamanship, Old Equipment for Deadly Sinking of Cargo Ship El Faro

VIDEO: NTSB Investigators Cite Poor Seamanship, Old Equipment for Deadly Sinking of Cargo Ship El Faro

A NTSB Rendering of the sunken El Faro merchant ship.

The deadly 2015 sinking of cargo ship El Faro was caused by a combination of factors, including outdated equipment and poor seamanship, according to recent findings of federal investigators.

All 33 crew members died in the sinking, when El Faro sailed from Jacksonville into Hurricane Joaquin, while heading to Puerto Rico. The wreckage was discovered more than 15,000 feet below the sea surface, Northeast of Acklins and Crooked Island, Bahamas. The National Transportation Safety Board met Tuesday in Washington to determine the probable cause of El Faro’s sinking.

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt, in his opening remarks Tuesday, said among the investigations findings several safety factors — outdated weather software used by the crew, the captain’s disregard of crew concerns about the ship’s course and weather, poor watertight integrity which allowed seawater to enter the ship, bridge team management, corporate oversight by the ship’s operator TOTE Maritime, and the ship’s damage control plans and condition of survival craft.

Sumwalt said investigators, including NTSB staff, Navy and Coast Guard personnel, developed 80 draft findings and 53 draft recommendations. So far, the investigation has cost $5.6 million.

The ship was found by the Navy in November 2015 by a salvage team embarked on the Military Sealift Command ship USNS Apache (T-ATF-172).

The loss of El Faro is the worst maritime disaster since the 1983 sinking of SS Marine Electric in which 31 of the 34 member crew were lost 30 miles off the coast of Virginia.

“Not since 1983 has an American flagged merchant ship gone to the bottom in such an ugly way,” merchant captain Allen Baker wrote at the time in The Baltimore Sun.

  • MarlineSpikeMate

    Good to see USNI posting and reflecting on this. I personally believe the Navy is so introverted they fail to see anything outside of their own organization in the world wide professional maritime community (both literally and figuratively). They use yards FFS while the rest of the world’s navies and merchant marines use cables and nautical miles… this is just a peek into the systemic wasteland of issues plaguing the seamanship side of the USN. Makes you wonder how good the CIC side is?

  • DaSaint

    Tragic sequence of events, poor practices and decision making. Unfortunately, the Captain’s decisions and actions resulted in the loss of his entire crew as well as the ship.

    Am intrigued at the Navy’s participation, resulting in finding the vessel 15,000 feet down. That portends well for possibly locating the ARA San Juan. How ironic.

  • Jim Barden

    See Knight’s Modern Seamanship 14th ed. 27.9.

  • Eyes open

    Sad that people had to die because the captain was more interested in the corporate angle. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to how much his bonus was had the ship got it’s cargo into port on time?

    • steghorn21

      He lost his previous command for refusing to sail with faulty steering gear, so he was understandably unwilling to pee off the owners by taking a lengthy detour. The ruthless corporate culture of maritime business is also to blame.

  • BillyP

    Is anyone else getting echoes of Halsey’s 2 (two) typhoon blunders in 1944/5? 790 lives lost, all because of his poor seamanship – even junior officers knew better than him. Some Admiral – should have been court martialled IMHO.

  • Ed L

    String the owners up by the tumbs and the Captain too

    • BillyP

      Make sure the suspending structure is moving – like the mast of a s l o w l y rolling ship, with their tippy toes *just* able to take the weight when she is upright, but then when she rolls …

  • Eugene Anderson

    Have you ever notice about how many tragic incidents happen under the cloak of darkness. Heading into a hurricane without working wind speed and wind direction instruments at night was a recipe for disaster. And a captain who would not listen to his mates. The ship was under way at full speed in 90 knots winds and 30 foot seas in darkness what the heck was the captain thinking. I forgot he had a ego it was fogging his brain. with a comment like: “It is just like another day in Alaska waters”! With all the open compartments 30 feet above water line it would be fairly easy to get sea and rain water into the upper decks. Free surface water 30 feet above water line would take the ship out in very little time. The engineer should have put his foot down hours before the ship went down. And told the captain to take a different course. It is so sad that 33 people had to die.

    • Paul Mahy

      The storm had significant time to wind up prior to meeting El Faro. The mention of thirty foot seas is very conservative. The fact that large waves are still called rogue waves, when a simple search on youtube will reveal hundreds of so called rogue waves, is testament to the ignorance of those who try to speak with authority on these matters. People actually write out long winded complicated formulae for waves, when all they need to do is go to sea and look out of the fucking porthole and actually record waves/storms etc. Instead of sitting in front of a computer trying to show everyone how good their complicated calculations are. Anyone who has spent time at sea will know in a blow, there’s always some big ones out there. And by the way, the fancy math’s don’t work.

  • Franken

    A nightmare in slow motion.