Will One Other Ship Sail into a Hurricane? El Faro Remembered


Hurricane Matthew: Measures taken by ships to avoid repeat of El Faro accident


A year ago this month, the world witnessed the sinking of cargo ship El Faro when hurricane Joaquin slammed into the cargo ship.  The impact of the collision resulted in the sinking of El Faro and killing all 33 people aboard.  It was termed as one of the worst maritime disasters in 30 years to take place in America.

Similarly, this year, its replacement ship, Isla Bella, could travel the same route this week despite the looming Hurricane Matthew — if its captain does not foresee any risks, it could result in a repeat of the El Faro incident.  Isla Bella, owned and operated by Tote Marine has left the decision up to its captain to decide whether the ship will proceed for its three-day trip from Puerto Rico to Jacksonville, Florida.

Hurricane Matthew has already pounded Haiti and Cuba with its intensity and is currently making its way to the Bahamas and the United States in the coming days.  Early this Wednesday, ship-tracking website Marine Traffic displayed Isla Bella’s latest position at Puerto Rico.

Company’s trust on the captain:

Tote Marine had not announced any decision regarding the reschedule in Isla Bella’s journey as a precautionary measure due to hurricane Mathew.  It later expressed that its captains are at liberty to change course for reasons such as weather, crew illness or to help another ship at sea.

Mike Hanson, Tote Marine spokesman issued a statement, “Our crews are trained to deal with unfolding weather situations and are prepared to respond to emerging situations while at sea”.  Hanson said they have “great confidence” that their officers will regulate their sailing agendas accordingly.

This was the same view expressed by Tote Marine officials last year saying it trusts its captains to make the right decision which resulted in El Faro making the fateful trip.

Sinking of El Faro:

El Faro was on its way from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico exactly mirroring the reverse journey of Isla Bella, when it stumbled upon the monster storm Joaquin on October 1 last year.

The Coast Guard established that El Faro capsized as Hurricane Joaquin churned across the Atlantic and hit the cargo ship.  All the crew members who included 28 Americans and five Polish nationals were killed.

A search team later deployed to find El Faro found the wreckage at a depth of about 15,000 feet near the ship’s last known position, Puerto Rico.

Why did El Faro go ahead with its scheduled route despite the risk of a potential hurricane threat?

After the ship sank, Tote Marine received severe backlash from critics who posed the above mentioned question.

Tote Marine defended its decision to send the ship.  They expressed that the captain had come up with a plan to avoid Hurricane Joaquin but the ship’s propulsion system failed, resulting in the ship being stranded in the path of the oncoming storm.

The captain of El Faro Michael Davidson had said the cargo ship was listing or leaning 15 degrees, but it was uncertain whether the propulsion failed due to strong winds or unfavourable environmental conditions, and what bearing it had on the propulsion system.

When El Faro started on its journey, Joaquin was forecast to be a tropical storm, but it reinforced significantly to a Category 4 hurricane.

Matthew is also a Category 4 hurricane.

What are the precautionary measures taken by Cruise ships?

All the South Florida cruise lines are re-routing their ships and reconfiguring itineraries to avoid Hurricane Matthew, making customers aware of refund policies.

In the meantime, they continue to monitor forecasts for ships anchored in the ports of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, where cruises often begin and end, mostly on Fridays and Saturdays.

It is forecasted that the Matthew is expected to arrive in the east of South Florida late Thursday or early Friday.

As a precautionary stand, Carnival Cruise Line has redirected eight of its cruises to strictly stay west of the storm.  In some cases, cruise liners were rerouted to the the western Caribbean Sea and Mexico; in other extreme cases, it issued orders to shift ports to avoid the storm.

Jennifer de la Cruz, Carnival Cruise Line spokeswoman said, “Routing decisions are made by our team of highly experienced marine navigation experts in collaboration with each ship’s captain.  We are continuing to monitor the storm and will make additional adjustments as necessary as things progress”.  She further stated that refund policies vary and depend in part on factors like the degree of change to the itinerary. In some instances, guests are given the option to cancel and receive a full refund.

Owen Torres, Royal Caribbean Company spokesman said that they have redirected several ships of its cruise ships.  

Vanessa Picariello, Norwegian Cruise Line spokeswoman said Norwegian Sky, which departed on Monday, will call on Key West and Cozumel rather than the Bahamas.  “We continue to closely watch the storm and are prepared to make alternate arrangements in the event that the ship’s return [to Miami] on Friday is delayed.  At this time, all of the remainders of our ships are sailing as scheduled and are not impacted by the storm’s path.” 

All the ship owners are taking measures to avoid a repeat of El Faro by rerouting their ships to avoid Matthew’s wrath.

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Source: CNN, MiamiHerald