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

December 12, 2017 3:46 PM
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The deadly 2015 sinking of cargo ship El Faro was caused by a combination of factors, including outdated equipment and poor seamanship, according to recent findings of federal investigators.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Robert Sumwalt, in his opening remarks Tuesday, said among the investigations findings several safety factors — outdated weather software used by the crew, the captain’s disregard of crew concerns about the ship’s course and weather, poor watertight integrity which allowed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.

Ben Werner

Ben Werner

Ben Werner is a staff writer for USNI News. He has worked as a freelance writer in Busan, South Korea, and as a staff writer covering education and publicly traded companies for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., Savannah Morning News in Savannah, Ga., and Baltimore Business Journal. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from New York University.

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