Coast Guard: Captain’s Errors in El Faro Sinking

This undated image made from a video and released Tuesday, April 26, 2016, by the National Transportation Safety Board shows the stern of the sunken ship El Faro. (National Transportation Safety Board via AP)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Coast Guard says the primary cause of the 2015 sinking of the cargo ship El Faro was the captain misreading both the strength of a hurricane and his overestimation of the ship’s strength.

The Coast Guard report made public at a news conference Sunday makes recommendations stemming from the Oct. 1, 2015, sinking of the 790-foot vessel, which went down near the Bahamas when Capt. Michael Davidson tried to cut through Hurricane Joaquin.

The Jacksonville, Florida-based ship was headed to Puerto Rico.

“The master misjudged the path of Hurricane Joaquin and overestimated the vessel’s heavy weather survivability while also failing to take adequate precautions to monitor and prepare for heavy weather,” said Jason Neubauer, the Chairman of the Coast Guard’s Marine Board of Investigation. 

Voice recordings recovered from the ship show an increasingly panicked and stressed crew fighting to save the ship after it lost propulsion as they battled wind, shifting cargo and waves.

Davidson ordered the ship abandoned shortly before it sank.

“He failed to understand the severity of the situation even when the watchstanders warned him the hurricane was intensifying,” Neubauer added. 

All of the vessel’s 33-member crew died, including Massachusetts Maritime Academy graduates Keith Griffin and Jeffrey Mathias.

The Coast Guard report also named other factors in the disaster.

Neubauer says the ship’s owner, TOTE Maritime Inc., had not replaced a safety officer, spreading out those duties among other managers, and had violated regulations regarding crew rest periods and working hours. The Coast Guard says it will seek civil actions against TOTE but no criminal penalties as there was no criminal intent.

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