Hearing Day 1: El Faro Captain Asked for Permission to Change the Ship’s Course

The former captain of the ill-fated El Faro cargo ship that sank in October 2015 due to the Hurricane Joaquin, Michael Davidson, asked TOTE for a permission to change the ship’s course during the voyage, a coast guard probe heard on Tuesday.

Namely, the U.S. Coast Guard has launched a ten-day public Marine Board of Investigation hearing into the loss of the United States-flagged steam ship El Faro, and its 33 crewmembers.

The focus of the yesterday’s session was questioning of Philip Morrell, vice president of Marine Operations for TOTE Services, by a seven member panel.

The panel asked Morrell about the captain’s email sent to TOTE with the captain asking if he should change the ship’s course. According to Morrell, Davidson did not need permission to ask, “he only has to advise us if he is making a change of course. It’s more or less a one way conversation.”

However, this remained unsettled as the email correspondence ended in a question mark with the captain obviously asking for permission.

In addition, according to Morrell, the company officials never issued any type of a safety alert to the ship warning the crew of the hurricane Joachin. Another issue arrised on the seaworthiness of the ship, namely a month after the ship sank, El Faro was scheduled for drydocking that entailed boiler maintenance and other maintenance. Further details on the works were not disclosed. Morrell said that despite the ship’s age, the ship was equally reliable to any of the newer ships in the company’s fleet.

The next hearings will see testimonies from other TOTE executives, mariners that served on the ship to hear about the condition of the boat, maritime experts and family members of the deceased crew.

The investigation has been launched following the announcement from the US National Transportation Safety Board on its intention to launch a second expedition to search for El Faro’s voyage data recorder (VDR).

The mission for locating the VDR is expected to begin in April and last about two weeks, the key aim being locating the data recorded so as to provide investigators with a more extensive and detailed survey of the shipwreck.

The exact launch date will be announced later, NTSB said.

World Maritime News Staff


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