NTSB El Faro Report Meeting

My recollection was that they bought Sea Star around five years ago, and put the Tote name on it, but maybe I’m confusing that with when they bought Tropical Shipping (foreign flag serving the Caribbean). There was maritime press coverage of the purchase, including the relatively modest price. I may have the two companies confused and be completely wrong about when they got into Sea Star.

Of course, I have no idea what sort of debt/equity mix they use to buy up other companies.

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Why is this done though? Why in the USA are ships run far past their usable lifespan?
Is it because the USCG and ABS keep passing the POS on inspections? Is it because it is not possible to replace the ship with a newer one?
Do other first-world countries have this problem of hunks of junks continuing to sail in the deep sea fleets?

I suppose that this has something to do with the special circumstances which prevail in the US maritime system due to which free competition is prevented. In a real world situation fuel guzzling turbine dinosaur ships like the El Faro would have been replaced already long ago as they soon became uneconomic due to sharply increasing fuel prices and therefore were unable to compete in the market place. In the real world the extra costs generated by these ships cannot be added to consumer prices as the market will not accept this, but can in the case of Puerto Rico and Hawaii. I suppose that for practical reasons the present system is unsustainable in the long run and that something got to give in the end.


One thing that stands out when you look at the corporate history is an emphasis on financial maneuvering – acquisitions, name changes, the split of TOTE into two companies – at the expense of operational concerns. It appears to be this strange little transportation conglomerate with a bunch of marginal operations (do they still have the air freight company?) and assets being moved around in dodgy-appearing ways.



Like any US company, they spend a lot of time and effort structuring everything they do to minimize high US corporate taxes.

Given that Tote was founded by a top lawyer who also founded one of Seattle’s best large firms, a lot the structuring undoubtedly is driven by efforts to limit liability.

Saltchuk owns several transportation companies, including air freight, tug and barge, and trucking.

This is from another thread:

This is Earl’s post.


22 posts were split to a new topic: Jones Act and The Age of U.S. Ships

This is from the NTSB findings:

35.Although there is no direct evidence that the company applied pressure regarding the
vessel’s schedule, inherent pressure could have influenced the captain’s decision to continue on despite the weather

I seem to recall that you posted ITF (International Transport Federation) Union foreign flag wage scales and schedules at least once before. As I recall, you could not access the Norwegian union wage scale, but it was higher than the US, why don’t you give that another try?

Explain to us why Norwegians seafarers should learn to live on ITF wages to be internationally competitive.


Of course there are rust buckets around elsewhere in the world. My argument is that they should not be found in first world countries like the US and certainly not ones with open lifeboats and EPIRB’s without GPS, all from a past era. Apart from that there is the issue these days of damage to the environment caused by outdated fuel slurping turbine engines. The sudden and hastened scrapping of the El Yunque is proof of the fact that Tote was very aware of the condition of these ships.

What didnot help was the lax, permissive manner in which the USCG and ABS surveyed the ships. Remember the surveyor who didnot dare to test the boilers at full pressure? The NTSB report made a recommendation to better train the ABS personnel, they put it politely but it is the same as saying you did a lousy job.


The El Yuque was scrapped because CG Sector Seattle came aboard with chipping hammer.

The story is on pages 80-82 of the MBI report.

From March 18 to August 14, 2016, Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound Marine Inspectors
made several visits to EL YUNQUE and, despite the February 2016, ABS survey and testimony
from the ABS surveyor, recorded the following pertinent findings:

April 6-12, 2016: Directed extensive third party gauging for multiple suspect locations
on the main deck. Found evidence of long-standing and uncorrected wastage.
May 20, 2016: Examined supply vents for the Holds 1-3 port and starboard (6 total).
Observed gaskets missing; holes in vent ducts; gasket flanges wasted; and holes in the
side shell in way of vent inlets (see figure 28). Required all items to be added to the work
August 14, 2016: TOTE halted work and requested to place the vessel in a lay-up vessel
to be scrapped.
December 23, 2016: Received notification that the vessel arrived at Brownsville, TX.
Changed vessel status to “scrapped” in the Coast Guard’s MISLE database.

I doubt if senior management had a clue about the condition of those ships. Tote shifted the El Yuqnque to the USWC for the Tacoma to Anchorage run. Maybe the officer in charge of Marine Inspection at Seattle Sector was worried it’d go down on his watch. That’d look bad


This is from the CG MBI report

Part of the DOC audit included a general walk-through of EL YUNQUE, and the Traveling
Inspectors requested that TOTE open up a starboard exhaust ventilation trunk serving cargo Hold 3 for inspection. The Traveling Inspectors noted severe corrosion within the ventilation trunk and they subsequently conducted testing of the soundness of the internal structure of the trunk.

This test, which was performed in a typical manner using a hammer, resulted in a hole through
baffle plating that was required to be watertight (see Figure 27). As the Traveling Inspectors
were discussing expansion of their inspection to additional ventilation trunks, the senior
Traveling Inspector received a cell phone call from the Sector Jacksonville Commanding
Officer. The Sector Commander, as the OCMI for the Port of Jacksonville, ordered the
Traveling Inspectors to stop further inspection and hammer testing of EL YUNQUE’s ventilation trunks because it exceeded the scope of the DOC audit; the Traveling Inspectors complied with that order. However, the Senior Traveling Inspector suspected that the potential for long-standing corrosion existed for the other ventilation trunks and voiced a concern that the wastagecould present a down flooding risk if the vessel experienced severe rolls. As a result, theTraveling Inspectors requested that Sector Jacksonville conduct a follow-up inspection to checkadditional trunks for conditions similar to that of Hold 3’s starboard exhaust vent trunk.
Traveling Marine Inspectors during a February 1, 2016, DOC audit of TOTE.
Under ACP protocols, Sector Jacksonville’s Marine Inspector conferred with ABS and
requested they oversee repairs to the ventilations trunks for Hold 3, check the condition of the
other ventilation trunks, and issue conditions of class as necessary. ABS concurred with the
Marine Inspector’s concerns and required de-scaling and temporary repairs to the ventilation
trunk casings that were identified as corroded during the DOC audit. On February 2, 2016, ABSsurveyed temporary repairs to the holed and wasted areas in way of the port and starboardexhaust ventilation trunks for Hold 3 146 including the following items:

The lower 24” of the louver chamber’s inboard bulkhead was cropped and renewed.
An opening around the side shell longitudinal angle in the transverse baffle plate was
Drainage holes on both port and starboard trunks (smaller and larger) were satisfactorily
closed up.

The ABS surveyor gave TOTE 30 days, until March 2, 2016, to make permanent repairs to
the Hold 3 ventilation ducts and EL YUNQUE continued to operate between Jacksonville and
San Juan. On February 9, 2016, ABS advised Sector Jacksonville that the temporary repairs had been completed to EL YUNQUE’s port and starboard ventilation trunks that were identified as corroded on February 1, 2016. In March 2016, TOTE relocated EL YUNQUE to Seattle,
Washington and started the process of converting the vessel back to its original RO/RO
configuration for Alaskan service.

During MBI testimony on May 19, 2016, the ABS surveyor who conducted the February
2016, repair survey on EL YUNQUE stated the following when asked if problems were detectedin other ventilation trunks:

So after this was discovered we looked at the port side as well and then we
sampled other trunks to verify that they were in good condition. This one that you have
pictures of is the only one that was found in this condition with regards to the corrosion.
From March 18 to August 14, 2016, Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound Marine Inspectors
made several visits to EL YUNQUE and, despite the February 2016, ABS survey and testimony
from the ABS surveyor, recorded the following pertinent findings:

April 6-12, 2016: Directed extensive third party gauging for multiple suspect locations
on the main deck. Found evidence of long-standing and uncorrected wastage.
May 20, 2016: Examined supply vents for the Holds 1-3 port and starboard (6 total).
Observed gaskets missing; holes in vent ducts; gasket flanges wasted; and holes in the
side shell in way of vent inlets (see figure 28). Required all items to be added to the work

August 14, 2016: TOTE halted work and requested to place the vessel in a lay-up vessel
to be scrapped.

December 23, 2016: Received notification that the vessel arrived at Brownsville, TX.
Changed vessel status to “scrapped” in the Coast Guard’s MISLE database.

I would agree that the lawyers,MBAs, and accountants in senior management at most companies know nothing about the condition of their ships or ship operation. From senior management’s point of view, they are in the business of selling a “logistics service.” The ships are merely incidental to the logistics business.

But Tote must have had some Port engineers and Port captains that were aware of the obvious physical defects that the USCG Seattle observed.

You make a good point, the USCG Seattle probably would not have noticed the defects in El Junkie, if it were not the sistership of EL Faro which had just sank, and owned by the same company. Instead of the usual soft glance, the USCG gave El Junkie a hard look.

You’re probably right that this had more to do with USCG CYA , rather than a renewed commitment to maritime safety in general.


Thank you for clarifying things regarding the El Yunque. Quite a story which shows that the El Yunque and presumably also the El Faro, were in real bad shape. Apart from the vents one could expect that also other ship parts were in poor condition.

Really have to wonder what condition the El Morro was in when Tote decided to scrapped her in 2014.

I don’t know, remember when we first got the news that the El Faro had been lost, we could not understand how it could have happened. Some of the posters that participated in those threads sailed on those ships. The possibility of propulsion loss by lost of lube oil suction was mentioned but nobody brought up those cargo vents.

Anyone that has sailed, is aware of the attitude of most companies when it comes to shipyard and getting repairs done. I know that as CE, I was told to be careful with what was said and told to make sure that the inspectors did not find certain things. Some of this I lived with (as most of us would have) but others I made a point to steer the inspectors to!

Back in the 70’s I remember inspecting the cargo tanks on an Oil Barge with the CG. The CG Inspector ordered the tank sealed up with us inside to block and light. Once it was sealed up it looked like we were looking up into the night sky as all of the holes in the deck showed themselves. We climbed out and he ordered the deck cleared and everything moved. The company had the crew place lines and anything else over any suspect areas to hide the damage. The CG Inspector said he gave them a 10 for trying but made them do the repairs.

Thinking back to all of the Yard Periods that I have been through, I can remember many times where things were found and reported by crew but were hidden from either ABS or the CG. The excuse was always, we don’t have the money or time for this now BUT we will fix it at a later date.

With my last company, I was called into the office and told to stop writing repair items up as safety items or I might be let go. My reason for doing it was anything written up as Safety had to be repaired and not put off. Did I abuse it maybe but all I was doing was using the SMS system against them which they hated.

I was one of the few that actually read the SMS books on a regular basis. They used to love quoting the SMS when it was in their favor but hated it when the “Crews” would use it to show that the office and support staff weren’t doing their jobs.

Now a days with jobs being tight, it puts the crews in a bad spot. Do you push for repairs that might lead to a layup or scrapping or cross your fingers that nothing bad will happen and let it slide??? This is one of the reasons that I’m glad that I’m retired and don’t have to make those decisions.


This is from the CG MBI report:

I was very surprised when I saw this diagram how little righting arm the ship had.

I’ve made a couple passes at this and am not sure what is being said.
Intact and Damage Stability
EL FARO met applicable intact and damage stability requirements for the accident voyage
that departed Jacksonville on September 29, 2015. However the vessel was operated very close to the maximum load line draft, with minimal stability margin beyond its required metacentric height (GM). 77 EL FARO’s past conversions reduced its ballasting options, leaving little flexibility for improving stability at sea if necessary due to heavy weather or flooding.

At the time of the casualty, EL FARO was subject to intact stability requirements of 46 CFR
§ 170.170 (the GM “weather” criteria); and EL FARO met those requirements on the accident
voyage. EL FARO departed Jacksonville on the accident voyage with a GM approximately 0.64 feet greater than the minimum required GM. 78 The difference between the minimum required GM and the calculated GM for a vessel is referred to as the vessel’s GM margin. EL FARO’s GM margin was reduced to approximately 0.3 feet at the time the vessel lost propulsion on the morning of October 1, 2015. 79

As operated and loaded for the accident voyage, EL FARO’s stability would not have met the
stability criteria for a new cargo ship, as the vessel did not meet the righting arm criteria for new cargo ships based on limited available area (righting energy) above 30 degrees of heel and an insufficient angle of maximum righting arm (see Figure A from Figure Sheet). 80 In order to fully meet the intact stability criteria of Part A of the 2008 IS Code at the full load draft, the minimum required GM would be approximately 6.8 feet, which is 2.5 feet greater than the GM of the actual departure loading condition of the accident voyage. However, paragraph 2.2.3 of Part A of the 2008 IS Code provides that “alternate criteria based on an equivalent level of safety may be applied subject to the approval of the administration” if obtaining the required 25 degree b angle for maximum righting arm is “not practicable.” Thus, the Coast Guard can permit a relaxation of the limiting criteria for minimum angle of maximum righting arm (25 degrees) on a case-by-case basis for new cargo ships.

When EL FARO underwent its major conversion in 1992-1993, it was required to meet the
probabilistic damage stability standard of SOLAS 1990. During the 1992-1993 conversion, ABS completed, reviewed, and approved a SOLAS probabilistic damage stability analyses, 81 and it was confirmed that the limiting stability criteria for EL FARO was the intact GM criteria (46 CFR § 170.170) for all loading conditions. Based on MBI testimony, Herbert Engineering
Corporation (HEC), did not complete a new damage stability analysis to confirm that the limiting criteria would remain the intact stability criteria for all loading conditions 82 after the 2005-2006 conversion, and ABS had no records of a damage stability analysis being completed. 83 A damage stability analysis should have been conducted because the 2005-2006 LO/LO conversion increased EL FARO’s load line draft by more than 2 feet. The increased load line draft invalidated the previous damage stability analysis completed in 1993.

During MBI testimony, 84 the ABS Chief Engineer for Statutes submitted results of an ABS
SOLAS probabilistic damage stability analysis performed on EL FARO in May 2016, 85 where he
applied the damage stability standards of SOLAS 1990, which would have been applicable in
2005-2006. This analysis determined that GM values of approximately 2.9 feet at both the load line and partial load line drafts (30.11 and 26.02 feet), would attain the required subdivision index of 0.60. MSC completed a similar analysis and obtained similar results, but with a slightly higher minimum GM value of 3.3 feet. 86 This suggests that for most EL FARO load conditions
with two or more tiers of containers loaded, the limiting stability criteria would be the intact
stability criteria (46 CFR § 170.170), but for some load conditions with less than two tiers of
containers loaded, the limiting stability criteria could be the damage stability criteria. The
potential for damage stability to be the limiting criteria was not reflected on the minimum
required GM curves in EL FARO’s T&S Booklet. 87 However, for the full load departure
condition of the accident voyage, since the majority of container stacks were three tiers high, the limiting stability criteria was the intact stability criteria (46 CFR § 170.170), which was properly reflected in EL FARO’s T&S Booklet and incorporated in its CargoMax stability software.

agree that these righting arm curves are terribly minimal and shows how the regulators who are “supposed” to protect the lives of mariners are failing at their job. EL FARO was a capsizing just waiting to happen but Davidson should have been aware of that and with that knowledge should have stayed very far away from Joachim. Again, imo the ship would have survived if is had only been only 20miles further east which certainly the master could have explained to management that he had to keep a buffer between the ship and the storm. Even if management couldn’t accept that excuse, he had his own life to protect as well as all the others aboard! More and more the finger points to Davidson being oblivious to danger and drove EL FARO headlong into it and ultimately to its oblivion!


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My memory may let me down here but I think there was a fourth mate who was responsible for operating the bow door and he/she had been let go and the task was assigned to the assistant bosun.
The masters had requested that indicator lights be fitted on the bridge to confirm the closure of the door when the extra mate left but this had been ignored by management.
There were three captains working shifts and the senior one was arrested in his home workshop while turning a salad bowl on a wood lathe.

We usually never agree but this is an exception.