NTSB blames captain’s decisions and poor safety for El Faro sinking

14 December 2017 (Last Updated December 14th, 2017 10:51)

The final report from the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on the sinking of cargo ship El Faro in 2015 has revealed that captain's overconfidence when dealing with dangerous weather was ultimately responsible for the sinking of the vessel.

NTSB blames captain’s decisions and poor safety for El Faro sinking
El Faro at sea, viewed from stern. Credit: William Hoey.

The final report from the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on the sinking of cargo ship El Faro in 2015 has revealed that captain’s overconfidence when dealing with dangerous weather was ultimately responsible for the sinking of the vessel.

El Faro sank on 1 October 2015 in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Joaquin.

The incident claimed the lives of all 33 people on-board and became one of the deadliest shipping tragedies to feature a US-flagged vessel in more than 30 years.

"We may never understand why the captain failed to heed his crew’s concerns about sailing into the path of a hurricane."

El Faro’s captain failed to avoid sailing into a hurricane despite the existence of various other routes that would have diverted the vessel away from the storm, said the NTSB report.

The report has also blamed the vessel’s operator TOTE for contributing to the disaster by providing poor oversight and inadequate safety management systems on-board the ship.

The 790ft-long vessel initially departed from Jacksonville, Florida, on 29 September 2015 to its destination at San Juan, Puerto Rico, US.

NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt said: “We may never understand why the captain failed to heed his crew’s concerns about sailing into the path of a hurricane, or why he refused to chart a safer course away from such dangerous weather.

“But we know all too well the devastating consequences of those decisions.”

“If the crew had more information about the status of the hatches, how to best manage the flooding situation and the ship’s vulnerabilities when in a sustained list, the accident might have been prevented.”

NTSB worked with the US military along with federal and private sector partners to locate the wreckage of El Faro and was able to recover the vessel’s voyage data recorder from more than 15,000ft below the sea’s surface.

Following a 26-month investigation, the board has now made several recommendations to the US Coast Guard, US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, International Association of Classification Bureau of Shipping, TOTE Services and others.