EL FARO was a United States flagged, combination roll-on/roll-off and lift-on/lift-off cargo ship crewed by U.S. merchant mariners. She was lost at sea with all hands on October 1st, 2015, after losing her propulsion near the eye wall of Hurricane Joaquin.
EL FARO departed Jacksonville, Florida, bound for Puerto Rico at 2030 hrs on September 29th 2015, when the Tropical Storm Joaquin was several hundred miles to the east. Two days later, after Joaquin had become a Category 3 hurricane, the vessel likely encountered swells of 20 to 40 ft (6 to 12 m) and winds over 80 kn (150 km/h; 92 mph) as she sailed near the storm’s eye. Around 0730 hrs on October 1st, the ship had taken on water and was listing 15 degrees. The last report from the captain, however, indicated that the crew had contained the flooding. Shortly thereafter, she ceased all communications with shore.
On October 2nd the 40 year old ship was declared missing, and an extensive search operation was launched by the United States Coast Guard, with help from the Air Force, Air National Guard, and Navy. They recovered debris and a damaged lifeboat, and spotted (but could not recover) an unidentifiable body. EL FARO was declared sunk on October 5th. The search was called off at sunset on October 7th, by which time more than 183,000 sq nautical miles had been covered by aircraft and ships. The Navy deployed the ocean tug USNS APACHE T-ATF 172 to conduct an underwater search for EL FARO on October 19th 2015. She identified a vessel on October 31st “consistent with cargo ship…in an upright position and in one piece.” The next day, November 1st, the Navy announced a submersible had returned images that identified the wreck as the EL FARO.
The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a news release which identified various leading causal factors including:
- the captain’s navigation decisions;
- inaccurate weather information;
- poor bridge team management;
- lack of oversight by the owner;
- inadequate damage control plans; and
- carriage of obsolete open lifeboats.
The vessel had passed its annual Coast Guard inspection in March 2015 and another survey in June and had also successfully completed the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) class and statutory surveys in February 2015. The NTSB found that safety drills were conducted on a weekly basis and that the ship met stability criteria when she left Jacksonville
Former crew members of EL FARO expressed surprise and shock that the vessel set sail with a major storm in her course. They said the vessel was a rust bucket that [was not] supposed to be on the water. They also said that the vessel suffered from drainage issues and that leaking was common in the galley compartment. They said that the ship was covered in rust and her decks filled with holes as recently as August.
The NTSB also said that the poor oversight and inadequate safety management system of the ship’s operator, TOTE, contributed to the sinking. As a result of the 26 month long 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 TOTE Services.
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 page at http://go.usa.gov/xnRTW.
Watermarked Photos by Capt. Lawrence Dalli. Do not use these images without my permission. © All rights reserved. Malta Ship Photos & Action Photos – www.maltashipphotos.com
Published – Saturday 5th October 2019