Deadly Sinking of Cargo Vessel Due to Captain Error

WASHINGTON, DC — the National Transportation Safety Board has announced during a public meeting that the deadliest shipping disaster involving a U.S.-flagged vessel in more than 30 years, was caused by a captain’s failure to avoid sailing into a hurricane, despite numerous opportunities to route a course away from hazardous weather.

The 790-foot, cargo vessel, S.S. El Faro, en route from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, sank Oct. 1, 2015, in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Joaquin, taking the lives of all 33 aboard.

The vessel was trapped in the 140 miles per hour (225 kilometers per hour) winds of Category Four Hurricane Joaquin. 53-year old Captain Michael Davidson made contact with land to report a loss of propulsion and water entry — but no further contact was made.

The NTSB launched one of the most comprehensive inquiries in its 50-year history, interviewing dozens of experts and colleagues, friends, and family members of the crew.  A robot submersible retrieved El Faro’s voyage data recorder from the three-mile-deep seabed. The black box contained everything that was said on the ship’s bridge, right up to its final moments afloat.

NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt, said in a statement, “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.”

NTSB investigators worked closely with the U.S. military and federal- and private-sector partners to locate the wreckage, photo- and video-document the ship and related debris field, and recover the El Faro’s voyage data recorder from more than 15,000 feet under the surface of the sea.