El Faro Analysis: Flooding from Multiple Sources Doomed Cargo Ship
The El Faro was likely doomed when it encountered Hurricane Joaquin, according to a preliminary analysis released Monday that found the cargo ship was unable to handle multiple sources of flooding and vulnerable to the flood water moving inside its hull as the vessel was lashed by high winds and stormy seas.
In presenting the analysis, naval architect Jeff Stettler with the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Center said the El Faro operated with little flexibility to improve its stability at sea because of how it was loaded.
Stettler presented the stability analysis on the first day of a third and final Coast Guard hearing into the ship sinking on Oct. 1, 2015, that killed all 33 on board. The hearing is the first since investigators released a more-than-500-page transcript of the audio recovered on the ship’s voyage data recorder that included discussions, and the harrowing final minutes, on the navigation bridge during the ship’s final 26 hours.
Stettler discussed a computer model and analysis of the ship’s stability and answered questions from federal investigators and attorneys for several parties including the ship’s owner.
Stettler said that based on recorded conversations captured on board the ship in its final hours there was more than one source of flooding on the El Faro. Water continued to rise even after a hatch was closed, Stettler said.
Capt. Jason Neubauer, chairman of the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation conducting the hearing, said he asked the Marine Safety Center to conduct the analysis, which also addressed likely contributing factors to the sinking.
Stettler said the “plausible sequence” of the ship sinking was: ship compartment No. 3 flooding; another compartment begins flooding through vent openings; the ship losing stability and partially capsizing with part of the deck awash; containers breaking lose from the deck; continued flooding through the vent openings; ship sinking; and ship returning upright because of fixed ballast.
Stettler said he doesn’t believe the ship every fully turned upside down and that it remained somewhat upright due to the fixed ballast.
Former chief mate questioned about fatigue, captain Davidson
Cmdr. Matt Denning, a member of the Marine Board, asked former El Faro chief mate Raymond Thompson about fatigue as it pertained to a captain receiving calls from the navigation bridge while asleep. Two top El Faro crew members called captain Michael Davidson to warn him about the ship’s proximity to Hurricane Joaquin, but he declined to change course, according to the audio transcript.
Thompson said the mates and captain took concerns about safety from the crew seriously.
“We cannot put ourselves in Captain Davidson’s position,” Bennett said, “because we were not there.”
The two-week hearing continues at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Prime Osborn Convention Center, 1000 Water St.
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