Mistakes by the captain of the El Faro led to the sinking of the cargo ship and the deaths of the entire crew of 33, according to a Coast Guard report released Sunday — two years to the day after the tragedy.
Capt. Michael Davidson misjudged the strength of Hurricane Joaquin and should have changed the El Faro’s route to avoid the storm’s brutal,150 mph winds, the report said. When the ship got stuck, Davidson should have taken more aggressive measures to save it, the report added.
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, according to the report.
“This tragedy never should have happened,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said in a statement after the report was released. “The findings in this report will serve as a roadmap for how we can prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.”
The ship, bound for Puerto Rico from Jacksonville, Fla., sank near the Bahamas on Oct. 1, 2015. Transcripts released by the National Transportation Safety Board last December showed an increasingly anxious and panicked crew as the 790-foot container ship sailed into the raging storm.
“That’s us, that’s the storm,” says second mate Danielle Randolph as crew members viewed the hurricane on their electronic equipment.
“I don’t know if any other ships are going right into it like we are,” Randolph says.
Davidson dismisses a crew member’s suggestion to return to shore a few hours later. “No, no, no. We’re not gonna turn around,” he says.
At 3:22 a.m., a crew member says, “Hear that wind out there? Yup. We’re getting it now. Hello, Joaquin.”
Davidson, who left the bridge around 8 p.m., returns at 4:10 a.m.
“There is nothing bad about this ride,” he says. “This is every day in Alaska. That’s what it’s like.”
The situation deteriorated in the next few hours and security alerts were sent to the Coast Guard by 7:15 a.m.
With water rising to nearly chest deep on the second deck, Davidson orders crew members to don water immersion suits, toss rafts into the water and abandon ship.
“Ring the abandon ship,” Davidson says. “Tell them we are going in.”
The El Faro was one of two ships owned by TOTE Maritime Inc. that navigated in constant rotation between Jacksonville and San Juan. It brought everything from milk to Mercedes Benz cars to the island.
The run was to be the El Faro’s last before a major retrofit.
TOTE Maritime released a statement Sunday saying the report “is another piece of this sacred obligation that everyone who works upon the sea must study and embrace. The report details industry practices which need change.”
Contributing: The Associated Press, John Bacon, USA TODAY
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