26 November 2015

The Final Voyage of El Faro, Questions, Few Answers

Joaquin 2015-10-01 1145z
El Faro - Final Location - By National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration;
provided via the United States Navy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Above is a satellite image at 11:45 UTC (7:45 a.m. EDT) on October 1 depicting the approximate final position of the SS El Faro in relation to Hurricane Joaquin.

NTSB Preliminary Report (pdf) on the fate of El Faro: "On Thursday, October 1, 2015, about 07:15 a.m. eastern daylight time, the US Coast Guard received distress alerts from the 737-foot-long roll-on/roll-off cargo ship El Faro. The US-flagged ship, owned by Sea Star Line, LLC, and operated by TOTE Services (TOTE), was 36 nautical miles northeast of Acklins and Crooked Islands, Bahamas, and close to the eye of Hurricane Joaquin. The ship was en route from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, with a cargo of containers and vehicles. Just minutes before the distress alerts, the El Faro master had called TOTE’s designated person ashore and reported that the ship was experiencing some flooding. He said the crew had controlled the ingress of water but the ship was listing 15 degrees and had lost propulsion. The Coast Guard and TOTE were unable to reestablish communication with the ship. Twenty-eight US crewmembers and five Polish workers were on board. The Coast Guard deployed helicopters and search vessels to the ship’s last known position, but the search was hampered by hurricane-force conditions on scene. On Sunday October 4, a damaged lifeboat, two damaged liferafts, and a deceased crewmember wearing an immersion suit were found. On Monday, October 5, a debris field and oil slick were found, and the Coast Guard determined that the El Faro was lost and declared the event a major marine casualty. The Coast Guard suspended the unsuccessful search for survivors at sundown on Wednesday, October 7. On Tuesday, October 6, the National Transportation Safety Board launched a full team to Jacksonville to lead the federal investigation in cooperation with the Coast Guard, the American Bureau of Shipping (the El Faro’s classification society), and TOTE as parties. The US Navy Salvage and Diving division of the Naval Seas Systems Command was contracted to locate the sunken ship, assist in the sea floor documentation of the wreckage, and recover the voyage data recorder."

SS El Faro (Wikipedia): "... On October 19, the USNS Apache departed from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek–Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Virginia to conduct the underwater search for El Faro. The vessel was equipped with a towed pinger locator, side-scan sonar, and a remotely operated vehicle. The search crew identified a vessel on October 31 at an approximate depth of 15,000 ft (4,600 m); the NTSB reported the object to be "consistent with a [790 ft (240 m)] cargo ship...in an upright position and in one piece." On November 16, 2015, the National Transportation Safety Board announced it has completed its search of the sunken ship, but did not find the voyage data recorder..."

SS El Faro:
"Not sure if you've been following the weather at all, but there is a hurricane out here and we are heading straight into it Category 3. Last we checked, winds are super bad and seas are not great — love to everyone." 
"The saddest thing is that if a 20-year-old cadet is concerned about the storm, what the hell is going on?” said Capt. John Nicoll, 62, who lives in New Hampshire and traces his lineage back through several generations of sailors. “I'm not going to second guess. That's not fair. But I have a lot of questions.” He’s not the only one. Many maritime veterans wonder how the El Faro found itself helpless in the path of a hurricane despite plenty of warning about what lay ahead ..." source: The last voyage of El Faro | Miami Herald

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