The long-awaited Coast Guard report on the 2015 sinking of the cargo ship El Faro revealed what many had suspected. The captain and the ship’s owner were largely responsible for the tragic sinking, which resulted in 33 deaths, making it one of the largest maritime accidents in U.S. history.
The report, which was released at the end of September, revealed extensive safety violations related to training, staffing, decision-making and the ship itself. Here are four major findings from the report.
1. The ship was not ship-shape. The El Faro was due for major retrofits when it set off on the voyage to San Juan. Under maritime law, it is the ship’s owner’s responsibility to provide a seaworthy vessel. In many ways, the El Faro fell short of being entirely seaworthy. For example, the ship still had only open-top lifeboats, which offer little hope of survival in a hurricane.
2. The captain made criminal mistakes. The decision to sail into – and not around – Hurricane Joaquin ultimately came from the captain, who died in the sinking. Had he not died, he would have faced negligence charges from the Coast Guard and likely had his license revoked.
3. The ship’s owner violated safety requirements. The ship should have had a safety office onboard, but the ship’s owner, TOTE, had not filled the position, and the ship sailed without one. Meanwhile, in part because of inadequate crew on board, crew members were foregoing rest periods, in violation of regulations – which in turn led to fatigue and decreased decision-making abilities.
4. The crew was not well trained. Even though the ultimate responsibility lay with the captain and the ship owner’s, crew members made mistakes as well. In addition to the impacts of fatigue, many of the crew member’s mistakes were due to inadequate training – again the responsibility of their employer.
Surviving family members, politicians and many others are calling for changes in the wake of the report. We’ll be closely following any changes in law and regulations that do occur.