Lost at Sea - Whom to Blame?
Blog: Vesa Tuomala
Published 10.12.2015

Container ship MV El Faro departed on September 29th from Jacksonville, Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico. El Faro, which was built in 1975, was on her route with 33 crew members, 28 American and 5 Polish sailors. She disappeared during the hurricane Joaquin on the Caribbean waters in the morning of 1st of October 2015.

 

The ship named MV SS El Yunque arrives to San Juan port after the search operations of her sister ship El Faro on October 5th 2015.

Suddenly the tropical storm grew up quickly to category 3 hurricane in the area, where El Faro was, with wind speed of 92 miles per hour. The ship was disappeared in the hurricane. The eye of hurricane was only in 19 miles to southeast of the vessel. Joaquin grew up to level 4 hurricane with maximum wind speed of 130 miles per hour, which is approximately 210 km/h and equals 58 m/s. Wave heights were about 20­-30 feet (6-­9 meters). The last message was sent from the vessel at 07:20 AM. She was taking water, having 15 degree listing and lost her propulsion. Nothing else was heard about the ship, not even distress signals. Shipping company informed US Coast Guard immediately of the situation. The situation confused people for many days.
 

The loss of the ship rises many questions:
Was the ship seaworthy and what weather information the Captain and Officers had?

Who made the decision to sail on that route towards Hurricane Joaquin and did anyone question that decision?

Captain of El Faro, Michael Davidson, was experienced sailor by the U.S. Media. Modern technique makes it possible to follow the weather conditions in real time and many organizations provide this information.

Was the reason for El Faro's total loss the loss of propulsion with heavy sea conditions?

Many questions would get answers if the ship's voyage data recorder would be found.

What shall be consequences of this accident for the ships navigating hurricane areas?

The writer of this article sails on a cargo ship in the same Caribbean Sea waters as El Faro, working as an Officer of Watch in charge of navigation and safety. He was on duty when El Faro disappeared.

 

The last known position of MV El Faro was in the northwest of Joaquin's eye at 07:56 AM.

 

El Faro was found by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and U.S.Navy sunken nearby the last known position in 15.000 feet (4.500 meters) on the Caribbean Sea in the end of October. One of the sailors was found dead earlier, near the place where the last message was sent. No one else has been found yet of the 33 person's crew, neither the ship's voyage data recorder (VDR), which could give more answers to the researchers what really happened before accident. VDR records all available navigation data, ship's movements and discussions between Master, Officers and Watchmen on the ship's bridge.

SOURCES
“The implications and threats of cyber security for ports" by Norbert Kouwenhoven, Martin Borett, Milind Wakankar www.porttechnology.org 12 edition 61: February 2014
 
“Threats to Global Navigation Satellite Systems” by Cpt. David B. Moskoff & William G. Kaag  Maritime Reporter & Engineering News May 2015
 
“Maritime Cyber Security” by Luke Ritter & John Baskam  Maritime Reporter & Engineering News March 2015
 
“Big Data: Big Value? Big Risk? Both?" By Jim Rhodes & Frandk Soccoli www.marinelink.com July 21, 2015
 
“Maritime Cyber Risks" by Cyber Keel whitepaper www.cyberkeel.com

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