It doesn’t seem plausible that TOTE management was putting pressure on the ship masters to maintain schedule to the point where the level of risk being taken by masters is far in excess of industry norms. More likely what TOTE is saying is true, that the weather routing is left entirely to each ship captain with no guidance from the company.
It’s not just the El Faro, consider the case of the El Yunque, a ship in such poor shape the the Coast Guard forced TOTE to scrap it. In the same tropical cyclone that sank the El Faro the El Yunque took took a direct route from a San Juan to Jacksonville and reported encountering a 100 kt wind gust. The captain said “luckily” the gust was from dead ahead.
When planning an encounter with a tropical system without guidance from shoreside management, each captain is going to plan the encounter in accordance with evolving company norms, his own tolerance for risk, his (misplaced) confidence in his ship and his (mis)understanding of the nature of tropical cyclones.
The hands off approach of the company, combined with the companies inability to properly evaluate senior deck officers, along with competition for jobs on new ships may have lead to a creation of a high-risk culture amongst the captains and mates.
Within this culture, no direct pressure from the company would be required to explain the TOTE captain’s proclivity for taking on risks which would be considered excessive by industry standards.