The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Dec. 12 conducted an all-day meeting in the nation’s capital that marked the end of its 26-month investigation of the El Faro sinking.
While the board cited numerous factors in the October 2015 tragedy – an incident that claimed the lives of 33 mariners, including 17 SIU members – they primarily pointed to the vessel master’s “failure to avoid sailing into a hurricane despite numerous opportunities to route a course away from hazardous weather,” the NTSB said in a news release.
However, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt stated, “The El Faro didn’t have to sail into Hurricane Joaquin, and having met the hurricane, didn’t have to sink. The captain’s decisions were important, but there’s also more to this accident.”
He added, “We may never understand why the captain failed to heed his crew’s concerns about sailing into the path of a hurricane, or why he refused to chart a safer course away from such dangerous weather. But we know all too well the devastating consequences of those decisions.”
Based on the findings of the investigation, the NTSB made 29 recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard, two to the Federal Communications Commission, one to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, nine to the International Association of Classification Societies, one to the American Bureau of Shipping, one to Furuno Electric Company and 10 to vessel operator Tote Services. Many are consistent with conclusions from related report (issued in October 2017) by the Coast Guard’s Marine Board of Investigation.
The NTSB recommendations include:
Revise regulations to increase the minimum required propulsion and critical athwartships machinery angles of inclination. Concurrently, requirements for lifeboat launching angles should be increased above new machinery angles to provide a margin of safety for abandoning ship after machinery failure.
Propose to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that all watertight access doors and access hatch covers normally closed at sea be provided with open/close indicators both on the bridge and locally.
Require that vessels in ocean service (500 gross tons or more) be equipped with properly operating meteorological instruments, including functioning barometers, barographs, and anemometers.
Require that all personnel employed on vessels in coastal, Great Lakes, and ocean service be provided with a personal locator beacon to enhance their chances of survival.
Tote Services released a statement on the NTSB’s findings that read, “We as a company intend to learn everything possible from this accident and the resulting investigations to prevent anything similar from occurring in the future. Tote also remains focused, as we have from the start, on caring for the families of those we lost and working daily ashore and at sea to safeguard the lives of mariners.”
The complete accident report is expected to be available in the near future. The executive summary, including the findings, probable cause and safety recommendations is available online. Additional information related to this investigation, including news releases, photographs, videos, and a link to the accident docket containing more than 30,000 pages of factual material, is available on the El Faro accident investigation web page.
The 790-foot cargo vessel El Faro, en route from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, sank Oct. 1, 2015, in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Joaquin. As outlined in the report, when the ship departed, the vessel had a range of navigational tools that would have allowed it to steer clear of the storm, which would eventually strengthen into a Category 4 hurricane. According to the NTSB, the captain ignored suggestions from the bridge, and used outdated weather forecasts in ordering a course that failed to avoid the path of the hurricane, which pounded the ship with 35-foot seas and 100-mph winds.