On October 01, 2015 the SS El Faro a freighter sank with all hands, 33 crewmembers lost their lives and no bodies were ever recovered though one was sighted by the USCG in a survival suit but not picked-up. By an extraordinary search, resumed at the insistence of a U.S. Senator from the State of Florida, the VDR was found and now after months of investigation some results have been released.
The ship left Jacksonville, Fl. bound for San Juan, PR and sailed directly into the eye of a Category 4 hurricane named Joaquin. Why the ship was where it was in the first place is a question yet to be fully answered but it seems that the Master was more focused on fuel consumption than plotting the path of the hurricane Joaquin and changing course to avoid the worst affect. This in spite of the Officers pointing out that the ship had closed to just 22 nautical miles from the hurricane's centre. Then at 0615 the vessel lost power, listed severely and at around 0730 sank with the loss of all hands. It seems extraordinary that apparently twice before her sinking while he still had power to do so the Master had declined to alter course based it appears on his consideration of an extra 160 nautical miles the additional fuel it would consume and getting permission from the Company to alter course. This is not good vessel management it is not even good sense. Since the transcript is 510 pages long one would have to read it in its entirety to learn all that happened however several points have been extracted by the Media. From these it is evident that navigation was done with an over-dependency on electronics using a system called BVS, which NAUTICAL LOG is not familiar with, and that this system seemed to fail or be inaccurate as were the reports from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Fl. All one can say as to that latter statement is that having lived in South Florida for 40 years one has considerable faith in the NHC professional work. From their own recorded words in the transcript the Master and Officers did not appear to have the professional knowledge to make their own assessment of the situation as a whole or if they did have it the ability to apply that professional knowledge. By and large reading the transcript extracts quoting the Navigation Bridge staff conversations gives an impression of persons who have no experience of being in Command or standing Watch in a ship whatsoever.
The U.S. Merchant Marine is completely bound by Unions, the Officers have one and the Seamen a separate one. This seems to restrict the actions the Master and Officers can or are willing to take and adding this to a Company's policies removes the actual decision-making from the Master limiting the range and ability to make decisions. Reading the transcript is a very sobering affair considering the actual results of this Master's actions or lack thereof and the somewhat flippant remarks made by him in the hearing of the Officers and crew on the Bridge. This is never a good or wise thing to do in front of one's crew and clearly, again from the conversations recorded, caused considerable distress to several of those crewmembers.