Aftermath & Implications

Photo depicting the stern of the El Faro after the wreck. Image courtesy of BuzzFeed News

Search for the Wreckage

The Navy was very quick and proficient in finding the wreck itself. The Navy sent USNS Apache to conduct an underwater search for El Faro on October 19, 2015. By October 31st the Apache had found wreckage consistent with the last known location and approximate size of the El Faro. The Apache would spend the next few days taking photos of the wreck for invesitgators.

160805-N-OH262-178 VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (August 5, 2016) Military Sealift Command’s fleet ocean tug USNS Apache (T-ATF 172) gets underway for Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story. Apache went to sea in support of the National Transportation Safety Board El Faro investigation. (U.S. Navy photo by Bill Mesta/Released)

NTSB Investigation & Future Safety Recommendations

Following the sinking of the El Faro the United States Coast Guard (USCG) released recommendations edited by the commandant of the USCG on how to specifically prevent another wreck from occurring. The report starts by asserting that the sinking of the El Faro was an entirely preventable accident brought on by a combination of human and mechanical errors. Many of these errors went against USCG regulations but others required recommendations for new legislation to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again.

The first recommendation is to completely overhaul the regulations of lifeboats and remove all open top gravity launched lifeboats for all oceangoing ships in the U.S. commercial fleet. These lifeboats are not safe to use with very high seas and the launch procedures for them are very slow. For existing vessels fitted with open lifeboats, the Coast Guard will initiate a concentrated inspection campaign to ensure that the lifeboats remain in serviceable condition. The inspection will include the launching, maneuvering, and recovery of open lifeboats, and the review of related safety procedures.

Image of an open gravity launched lifeboat courtesy of Nautilus Shipping

Another recommendation is to require the installation of CCTV cameras to monitor unmanned spaces from the bridge cargo vessels, such as cargo holds and steering compartments. This will help suppress both fires and floods because the crew will be able to more easily pinpoint the location of the disturbance. They can also aid in man-overboard situations and accident investigations.

Image of a CCTV system aboard a ship courtesy of Britannia P&I

It is recommended to require that a company maintain an onboard and shoreside record of all incremental vessel weight changes, to track weight changes over time so that the aggregate total may be readily determined. This will prevent ships from being overloaded based on old weight numbers. The USCG had attempted to enact this reform twice before but was unsuccessful. However, in light of the El Faro accident, they were able to adopt this regulation.

Image of a new AI-based ship weighing technique courtesy of Digit News

It is recommended that the development of a shipboard emergency alert system “that would provide an anonymous reporting mechanism for crew members to communicate directly with the Designated Person Ashore or the Coast Guard while the ship is at sea”(USCG) The system would be in place to report urgent and dire safety concerns that are not being adequately addressed onboard the ship or by shore-based company resources promptly. This would have enabled the crew of the El Faro to warn the company of the reckless actions of the captain.

Image of a naval communications array courtesy of Marine Digital

Fianally. It is recommended that the USCG establish and publish an annual report of domestic vessel compliance. “This report -shall include domestic vessel no-sail rates for each type of inspected subchapter, and a methodology for associating a Coast Guard-issued no-sail control action with an ACS, for vessels found to have deficiencies or major non-conformities that were misclassified, or not previously identified during an ACS-led inspection or survey”(USCG). This will help to keep vessel operators accountable by letting potential customers know that the service they are planning to use to transport there valuble cargo is in fact not saftey compliant providing a free market solution to the problem.

NTSB Documentary