EL FARO Tragedy: Does Age Really Matter?

Article from gcaptain:
[B]EL FARO Tragedy: Does Age Really Matter?[/B]

By Donald Frost
[I]SS EL FARO’s age (39 years) has risen as a cause of its loss: But the issue, to my mind, is not age but inspection and maintenance.[/I]
The discussion of age in connection with marine accidents is an unfortunate gross over-simplification, one that mis-leads the general observer masking as it does the numerous elements far more critical to a vessels structural integrity. Not the least it ignores, in the United States especially, an enormously rigorous safety regime that starts with the US Government in the form of the US Coast Guard, perhaps the finest safety organization in the world.
Next there are the Classification Societies, those technical engineering organizations, such as American Bureau of Shipping, which did the physical inspections and certification of the [I]El Faro[/I]. These frequently “Not for Profit” organizations are charged with the physical inspection of each vessel and the issuance of safety certificates, without which a vessel may not sail.
Each vessel is the product of a small army of contractors whose equipment, engineering work and reputations are constantly on the line as they continuously monitor, maintain and upgrade their products. And certainly not least is the corporate culture in the US which is second to none, and which must meet the demands of an environmental protection and safety driven regulatory regime.
All of these forces are constantly focused on maintaining the integrity of a vessel’s structural safety.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the European Commission, in the wake of the loss of the M/T ERIKA in 1999 and the M/T LEVOLI Sun in 2000, did extensive investigations into the issue of age. It was established that a ship’s age is independent of its safety. The only criterion is how each ship is maintained over its life.
In the United States there is data supporting the findings in Europe. Some examples:

[ul]
[li]The average of the US Jones Act fleet over 10,000 dwt, of which EL FARO was part, is 30 years. If tankers are excluded the average age of the dry cargo fleet is higher. At the end of 2015 it was 33+ years.[/li]> [li]The average age of the school ships run by the state maritime colleges is 37 years. The oldest is over 50 years.[/li]> [li]The average age of the Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve fleet is 41 years.[/li]> [li]The average age of the United States Coast Guard’s High Endurance (deep sea) cutters is 42 years.[/li]> [li]The average age of the US Great Lakes cargo fleet is 46 years[/li]> [li]The average age of the US Navy’s commission ships is 20 years. If tankers and combat logistics ships are omitted the age of the forward deployed cargo fleet is well over 25 years.[/li]> [/ul]
Yet the United States enjoys one of the safest maritime records in the world.
We must not allow ourselves to follow the easy route in the current case of the[I] El Faro[/I] and just say age was the cause, because that does an enormous disservice to those wonderful mariners lost when she went down. It ignores the enormous oversight of the US Coast Guard. It belittles the technical expertise of the American Bureau of Shipping. And it would mean that every American seafarer, Navy sailors, Coast Guard women and men, and the precious next generation of skilled, brave and talented cadets that experience their school ship experience is at risk.
We know they are not!

[QUOTE=Kennebec Captain;179747]Article from gcaptain:
[B]EL FARO Tragedy: Does Age Really Matter?[/B][/QUOTE]

I was wondering whyit took the apologists so long to get geared up for the whitewash.The author of this editorial got one thing at least partially right when hestarted off with: [I]“SS EL FARO’s age (39 years) has risen as a cause ofits loss: But the issue, to my mind, is not age but inspection and maintenance.”[/I]

But when it comes tosaid inspection he avers that we have:
[I]“an enormouslyrigorous safety regime that starts with the US Government in the form of the USCoast Guard, perhaps the finest safety organization in the world.”[/I]

And that’s not all:
[I]“Next there are theClassification Societies, those technical engineering organizations, such asAmerican Bureau of Shipping, which did the physical inspections andcertification of the El Faro. These frequently “Not for Profit” organizationsare charged with the physical inspection of each vessel and the issuance ofsafety certificates, without which a vessel may not sail.”[/I]

If the author is not awareof the pathetic record of the USCG and ABS, upon which the S/S MarineElectric disaster is but one disgraceful blot among many, he’seither willfully ignorant or a shill for the marine inspection industry.

And of course hedoesn’t forget to praise the corporate entities that profithandsomely from every shortcut and oversight they can paradepast those glorious safety inspectors when he notes:
[I]“And certainly notleast is the corporate culture in the US which is second to none, and whichmust meet the demands of an environmental protection and safety drivenregulatory regime.”[/I]

But it’s the final paragraphthat I find particularly revolting:
[I]“We must not allowourselves to follow the easy route in the current case of the El Faro and justsay age was the cause, because that does an enormous disservice to thosewonderful mariners lost when she went down. It ignores the enormous oversight ofthe US Coast Guard. It belittles the technical expertise of the American Bureauof Shipping. And it would mean that every American seafarer, Navy sailors,Coast Guard women and men, and the precious next generation of skilled, braveand talented cadets that experience their school ship experience is atrisk.”[/I]

So the author finds itnecessary to point out that those [I]“wonderful mariners”[/I] (hewouldn’t know whether they were saints or criminal lowlifes, and it wouldn’tmake the slightest bit of difference either way) went down with thatunseaworthy old can in spite of the [I]“enormous oversight”[/I] ofthe Coast Guard and the [I]“technical expertise”[/I] of theABS. But he is the one who does a [I]“disservice”[/I] tothose people by employing sympathy for the victims solely forthe purpose of shielding the marinesafety establishment from criticism, which only serves to perpetuate the same dysfunctionalsystem that made this latest catastrophe, and previous ones like the Marine Electric,inevitable. [I]Of course[/I] every American seafareris at risk as long as the present state of affairs continues; and they always will bewhile the same bunch of unprincipled charlatans and their minions are incharge.

I was wondering why it took the apologists so long to get geared up for the whitewash. The author of this editorial got one thing at least partially right when he started off with: [I]“SS EL FARO’s age (39 years) has risen as a cause of its loss: But the issue, to my mind, is not age but inspection and maintenance.”[/I]

But when it comes to said inspection he avers that we have:
[I]“an enormously rigorous safety regime that starts with the US Government in the form of the US Coast Guard, perhaps the finest safety organization in the world.”[/I]

And that’s not all:
[I]“Next there are the Classification Societies, those technical engineering organizations, such as American Bureau of Shipping, which did the physical inspections and certification of the El Faro. These frequently “Not for Profit” organizations are charged with the physical inspection of each vessel and the issuance of safety certificates, without which a vessel may not sail.”[/I]

If the author is not aware of the pathetic record of the USCG and ABS, upon which the S/S Marine Electric disaster is but one disgraceful blot among many, he’s either willfully ignorant or a shill for the marine inspection industry.

And of course he doesn’t forget to praise the corporate entities that profit handsomely from every shortcut and oversight they can parade past those glorious safety inspectors when he notes:
[I]“And certainly not least is the corporate culture in the US which is second to none, and which must meet the demands of an environmental protection and safety driven regulatory regime.”[/I]

But it’s the final paragraph that I find particularly revolting:
[I]“We must not allow ourselves to follow the easy route in the current case of the El Faro and just say age was the cause, because that does an enormous disservice to those wonderful mariners lost when she went down. It ignores the enormous oversight of the US Coast Guard. It belittles the technical expertise of the American Bureau of Shipping. And it would mean that every American seafarer, Navy sailors, Coast Guard women and men, and the precious next generation of skilled, brave and talented cadets that experience their school ship experience is at risk.”[/I]

So the author finds it necessary to point out that those [I]“wonderful mariners”[/I] (he wouldn’t know whether they were saints or criminal lowlifes, and it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference either way) went down with that unseaworthy old can in spite of the [I]“enormous oversight”[/I] of the Coast Guard and the [I]“technical expertise”[/I] of the ABS. But he is the one who does a [I]“disservice”[/I] to those people by employing sympathy for the victims solely for the purpose of shielding the marine safety establishment from criticism, which only serves to perpetuate the same dysfunctional system that made this latest catastrophe, and previous ones like the Marine Electric, inevitable. [I]Of course[/I] every American seafarer is at risk as long as the present state of affairs continues; and they always will be as long as the same bunch of unprincipled charlatans and their minions are in charge.

We know they are not!

We know that there is little interest in marine safety beyond the publicity and political benefits that might accrue.

The reason why American ships can (or could) keep working so long after the ships of the rest of the industrial nations (of which we are quickly fading from membership) are melted into rebar is because American sailors take great pride in having the talent to keep anything running. The same attitude and skills that created the “hot rod” culture of the '50s was reflected in the workshop skills of mariners. At least it was until mariners became nothing more than an expense to be reduced by modern managers whose only knowledge of a ship is probably seeing a model in the company boardroom.

When shipping out became an exercise in fighting chronic fatigue and frustration the quality and skills of mariners decreased. There was little if any pride in “their” ship. The money got better but only because there was no longer any other reason for a skilled technician to sail. Speaking personally, it was increasingly difficult to justify wishing away half my life, waiting for a relief.

With the insane reductions in crew sizes and the incredible disregard for fatigue studies conducted since WW2, it is little wonder why old ships are becoming rustbuckets. The owners are cashing out, the CG doesn’t care (even if they had anyone who knew how a ship works)and Class is more interested in market share. When we have politicians like Traitor McCain working overtime to gut the American merchant marine and a Congress that would rather support foreign shipowners than our own, and MarAd only recognized the American merchant marine as justification to fund a school that should have gone the way of the liberty ship it was founded to man, it should not surprise anyone that our shrinking fleet is “old.”

I am only going to say that I love old ships. I am a maritime historian for Christ’s sake and have commanded vessels older that the EL FARO was when she was lost HOWEVER, I have commanded old ships which were manifestly unseaworthy and were not fitted with all the modern safety equipment a newer ship would have. When I have run those old vessels there was always more dread of something bed happening which frankly, I would not have a full toolbox to deal with. While there is no good reason an old (>25years) ship cannot be operated safely if still of sound structure, they all need to be fitted with safety devices to the most recent regulation. NO FUCKING GRANDFATHER OR WAIVERS JUST BECAUSE IT WILL COST TOO MUCH! Case in point the lifeboats on the EL FARO. Open boats should all be BANNED FROM EVERY VESSEL IMMEDIATELY!

If Mr. Frost believes what he has written, he is a moron. Maintenance and problems on an older vessel are going to occur more frequently than newer vessels. This happens with age as the steel rusts, rubber rots and insulation degrades. To insist that older vessels are just as safe and reliable as newer vessels is moronic.

[QUOTE=Rafterman;179998]If Mr. Frost believes what he has written, he is a moron. Maintenance and problems on an older vessel are going to occur more frequently than newer vessels. This happens with age as the steel rusts, rubber rots and insulation degrades. To insist that older vessels are just as safe and reliable as newer vessels is moronic.[/QUOTE]

I believe the point Mr. Frost was making is that a ship’s age is independent of its safety. The only criterion is how each ship is maintained over its life. In that regard, [B]properly maintained[/B] older vessels [B]can be[/B] just as safe and reliable as newer vessels. I have seen ships just a few years old that were in terrible shape and ones much, much older that were in great shape. The difference was how they were maintained…or not. Suggest you reread what was posted.

Yes maintenance and maintenance plans are important to the operation of any piece of equipment. Especially something complex like a vessel. Age however is not independent of safety. Pieces of equipment tend to fail in new and unexpected ways as they age. Governor linkages are a great example. They develop slop and wear as they age. When the governor stops functioning correctly, it can leave you down an engine until troubleshooting/repair is complete.

With age this scenario can happen in any number of ways. To claim that proper maintenance keeps an old vessel on par with a new vessel is laughable.

[QUOTE=Rafterman;180006]Governor linkages are a great example. They develop slop and wear as they age. When the governor stops functioning correctly, it can leave you down an engine until troubleshooting/repair is complete.[/QUOTE]

That has bugger all to do with age, it has everything to do with the engineer looking at the linkage and giving it a shake before starting, and watching it during operation. It has to be the simplest preventive maintenance and inspection component on the ship.

Except for common rail and electronic governors of course … doesn’t do much good to tug on anything but the connectors once in a while.

But with the correct maintenance and preventative maintenance plans your worn governor linkage would have been identified and dealt with before it became a casualty. If the governor linkage which left you with a down engine is replaced, isn’t that now a new part with zero hours.

[QUOTE=Steamer;180007]That has bugger all to do with age, it has everything to do with the engineer looking at the linkage and giving it a shake before starting, and watching it during operation. It has to be the simplest preventive maintenance and inspection component on the ship.

Except for common rail and electronic governors of course … doesn’t do much good to tug on anything but the connectors once in a while.[/QUOTE]

Oh, for fucks sake. You know what an example is right? Equipment can fail in new and unexpected ways. I just used governors as an example everyone can relate to. I’ve seen wear on linkages that prevented an engine from connecting, but was not noticeable from tugging on linkages and watching startup.

Your linkages don’t wear with age?

Robert Frump’s take:

Of El Faro and 100-Year-Old Ships: Why Old Ships Are Not Okay

[QUOTE=c.captain;179972]I am only going to say that I love old ships. I am a maritime historian for Christ’s sake and have commanded vessels older that the EL FARO was when she was lost HOWEVER, I have commanded old ships which were manifestly unseaworthy and were not fitted with all the modern safety equipment a newer ship would have. When I have run those old vessels there was always more dread of something bed happening which frankly, I would not have a full toolbox to deal with. While there is no good reason an old (>25years) ship cannot be operated safely if still of sound structure, they all need to be fitted with safety devices to the most recent regulation. NO FUCKING GRANDFATHER OR WAIVERS JUST BECAUSE IT WILL COST TOO MUCH! Case in point the lifeboats on the EL FARO. Open boats should all be BANNED FROM EVERY VESSEL IMMEDIATELY![/QUOTE]

I hope MarAd’s listening.

[QUOTE=Rafterman;180009]Oh, for fucks sake. You know what an example is right? Equipment can fail in new and unexpected ways. I just used governors as an example everyone can relate to. I’ve seen wear on linkages that prevented an engine from connecting, but was not noticeable from tugging on linkages and watching startup.

Your linkages don’t wear with age?[/QUOTE]

Everyone with a mechanical governor deals with wear, but the symptoms tend to appear long before a crisis occurs.

I was recently on a voyage with an engine with a suspect governor. After some experimentation, we realized that the problem was neither the linkage, nor the governor internals, but the wiring, which was repaired and reconnected. Chafed wiring and a loose connection was telling the governor to go into shutdown. After the fix, the problem disappeared (for the time being).

BTW, linkages should be greased. That’s why they have fittings. I see a lot that are not greased and haven’t been in a long time. I guess that goes back to the whole maintenance thing.

[QUOTE=Kennebec Captain;180011]Robert Frump’s take:

Of El Faro and 100-Year-Old Ships: Why Old Ships Are Not Okay[/QUOTE]

Interesting how the author compared old ships to old cars (1975 Jeep Wagoner) and while they may work, they shouldn’t be trusted. I guess he had a bad experience with Jeeps. I have 2002 VW Jetta diesel that I use for my daily driver. It has over 245,000 miles on it at the moment. I have no issues in using it for long distance trips in fact last year I made 5 trips that were each around 2000 miles in length. It all boils down to maintenance. As far as old cars go, tell that to the Cubans.

Liberia allows Class to issue all their certificates on their behalf. The USCG has not relinquished that authority completely.

[QUOTE=Chief Seadog;180022]Interesting how the author compared old ships to old cars (1975 Jeep Wagoner) and while they may work, they shouldn’t be trusted. I guess he had a bad experience with Jeeps. I have 2002 VW Jetta diesel that I use for my daily driver. It has over 245,000 miles on it at the moment. I have no issues in using it for long distance trips in fact last year I made 5 trips that were each around 2000 miles in length. It all boils down to maintenance. As far as old cars go, tell that to the Cubans.

Liberia allows Class to issue all their certificates on their behalf. The USCG has not relinquished that authority completely.[/QUOTE]

I was going to comment on that Jeep issue myself. There are an awful lot of “old” cars on the road working as daily drivers and more. We have a 20 year old pickup truck with a rebuilt crate engine and I’d have no issue taking it on a long distance road trip.

How old were the Space Shuttles when finally retired? I think ATLANTIS was around 30 years old and had flown over 30 missions yes?

The two Space Shuttles lost in action were not as a result of age…one was lost due to an o-ring that was flown at a temperature below recommendations resulting in fuel blow-by, and the other was lost due to ice damage destroying a wing leading edge. Both craft operated in temperatures and conditions outside of recommended parameters. Not an age issue.

They were otherwise well-maintained, complex vehicles that operated in a very harsh environment far from outside assistance. Not unlike ships.

Just wanted to mention the Passenger/Car Ferry, SS Badger that plies Lake Michigan began service in 1953. According to a recent article here in gcaptain the SS United States (launched in 1952) may get a new life. Are those ships necessarily unsafe?

[QUOTE=Chief Seadog;180029]Just wanted to mention the Passenger/Car Ferry, SS Badger that plies Lake Michigan began service in 1953. According to a recent article here in gcaptain the SS United States (launched in 1952) may get a new life. Are those ships necessarily unsafe?[/QUOTE]

The SSUS certainly is, being a bare bones hulk long neglected. Who knows what sort of condition the hull is in.

I know people associated with SS BADGER so I won’t comment on that vessel unless they wish to post here.

While everyone hates rules and regulations, one thing that makes new ships safer on a general level is the fact that classification society, IMO etc. rules have been changed and amended a number of times to weed out unsafe practices in ship design and construction. They just don’t build 'em like they used to, and it’s a good thing…

I find it sad that people are apologizing or rationalizing the fact that the USA, the self proclaimed richest, greatest nation on earth, having old worn out ships serving and employing US citizens on protected US routes. Former Sea Star [Tote/Saltchuk] president Frank Peake is facing a 5 year prison term for price fixing on the lucrative Puerto Rico route which indicates to me that greed is the driving force behind this outfit.