NTSB El Faro Report Meeting


On that JAX/SJU run you’d think that the captains would have been there forever and there would be mates waiting in line for a captains job, seconds waiting to move up to mate and so forth. But seems like TOTE was going through captains and mates like paper towels. There is not going to be a build up of deep expertise.

Plus had Davidson come up at TOTE and sailed captain many years and had a long-term relationship with TOTE and time to build up a good reputation with the company he’d likely been less inclined to to take risks.

I get the impression TOTE thought of the captains and mates as interchangeable warm bodies.


I wonder what effect the legal troubles of the predecessor organization and its management had on the TOTE corporate culture:


Looks like the outfit was pretty well ripped apart by this, which may explain the unusual personnel actions.



From the one of the captain’s testimony at the MBI hearings and the conversations of the crew on the VDR trancript, TOTE had been slowing squeezing any slack out of the system.

Fewer crew to help with cargo, RO/RO often is high tempo, the turn around time at SJU was cut from an overnight etc.

Trying to remove any trace of reserves or reducing resilience to use the HRO term.


Sounds like BP Houston just before the loss of the Deepwater Horizon. A “brittle organization,” to use Bob Bea’s words.



Yes “brittle organization" I think that’s right.

My understanding of Nancy Leveson’s book is that this would be a case of dysfunctional interactions between the ship and the next level up. TOTE claims that the captains were ultimately in command and the company had no oversight with regards to the route.

But in fact they would of course been monitoring the schedules, late arrivals would tend to get their attention but no control whatsoever regarding how much risk the captain could take in the case of schedule slippage, no guidance or training on heavy weather avoidance.


I agree that is the stark reality which becomes far too apparent now…I had always been of the belief that once one got on permanent with TOTE one never left. Very much like Matson Lines. Top shelf pay and guaranteed work as long as one was loyal and true to the company.

now one must wonder if anyone aboard ship is “permanent” in their job?


“At will employment” sucks. Maybe the USCG should require master’s on unlimited ships have an employment contract. Maybe two year terms? At least then your immediate job is safe.


Most companies today consider their mariners to be little more than interchangeable warm bodies with a license.

It’s a US maritime cultural thing symptomatic of a neglected and declining industry in an otherwise strong economy and tight employment market.The enormous glut of deck officers available and desperate for a job, even at lower pay, encourages managers to view mariners as just another fungible commodity. Mariners are a dime a dozen.

Think about it from a shoreside manager’s point of view. They struggle to find enough qualified employees to fill shoreside positions. They struggle to retain the shoreside employees. They have record turnover with people leaving for better jobs. Mariners are much more highly paid than shoreside staff with college degrees and various certifications. There is a glut of licensed mariners available and begging for jobs, yet they cost much more than the shoreside staff. What is a manager left to think?


This is from WorkBoat

Fisker-Andersen had described Davidson to others in the company as “the least engaged” of their four ship masters, and called him a “stateroom captain” – a master who spends much of the time engaged in the office work.

In my experience if they want a captain that is engaged in ops outside the office they need to hire from within. A mariner that came up from 2/M to C/M to captain is going to know that operation inside out and if a crew member needs help with something it’s natural that if the captain has a lot of knowledge they will go to him for help.

My experience is not so much being hands-on as it is being dragged into problem solving because the crew knows the captain that knows the ship likely has information and experience they will save them time and effort.

Otherwise they will solve the problem on their own, thus the captain becomes a “stateroom captain”.


Seriously. As I sit here preparing my monthly safety meeting minutes while simultaneously preparing payroll I cannot fathom what they mean by this. A captain of a large ship that HAS to be everywhere at once either isn’t comfortable with the people working for him, isn’t comfortable with the Captains job, or is incapable of delegating.

If Tote wants hands on Captains that are up the Chief Mates ass constantly, they’d better bring back Pursers or get some better Chief Mates.


Sailing as Master on small vessels with small crews, mostly on coastwise routes, mostly with a 6/6 watch schedule, and often without much distance between ports, it never ceases to amaze me that so many of the office staff think we do nothing but lounge around while the autopilot does everything for us.

Some of them delight in creating more unnecessary paperwork that no one will ever read. Some make time to micromanage production of some newly discovered, but antiquated form that no one else has ever heard of, with great glee. The worst are the junior bookkeepers. They love to call at 2pm in the afternoon, get really upset when they are told that I’m asleep, and insist that I be awakened to do my job. Usually, they want to discuss how to properly categorize a two month old $100 invoice from some hardware store. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

My favorite are the “sales managers” that call and want to know if a dozen containers numbered such and such are on the barge. I say, don’t you have a copy of the manifest? They say, sure, but regardless of the manifest, the customer needs to know if these containers are actually on the barge. I saw, well the barge is half a mile behind us. They say, that’s great, how long will it take you to go back and look for these containers.


Well, it’s a goldilocks thing, if someone legitimately comes to the captain for assistance they shouldn’t leave wishing they hadn’t.

In the case of TOTE I think there must be something to the criticism as several people were reported saying the same thing.

Plus I think we can all agree there is no question that failing to respond to the second mate is in this case too disengaged.


Sounds to me like Davidson was disappointed, disgusted, and depressed about not getting a new Tote ship because he had done the right thing and taken the Old Bahama Channel to avoid weather on a previous voyage. The only reason he hadn’t quit Tote was that there were no other jobs available. He wasn’t going repeat that mistake by doing the right thing again, only to lose the only job available to him entirely. Of course he was angry. Who wouldn’t be?

He did not want to be out there in a hurricane, but he was giving Tote what it wanted. He was overconfident in the ship, even though he knew better than to be there in the first place, he was sure the ship could withstand it. He lost track of the storm center and its path. Shit happened. Then he was in denial. Not that anything else that might have been done at that point would have made any difference anyway.

Moral of the story for shipping companies: unhappy ships are ultimately dangerous and unprofitable ships.

Moral of the story for mariners: get off unhappy ships while you still can.


Amen, brother!


This is from the NTSB, failure to cross-check the BVS weather info with NWS and actual observations of the outside weather. Just basic seamanship.

Routes from Jacksonville to San Juan

Passages along El Faro Route

Opportunities to change course


I still say no other route need have been taken…all that was needed to remain safe was to order a reduction of speed down to say 12kts at 2000 until the time the captain returned to the bridge in the morning to assess the best course to take. I believe they were making turns for 18kts? From 2000 to 0400 the reduction in speed would have placed the ship 48miles further away from the center of circulation and with the 0500 position of the storm as shown well away from the worst winds and seas.

Somehow Davidson was utterly convinced that Jaochim was going to turn north during the time he slept so that when he awoke, the ship would be riding the wind south of the storm’s center…HOW UTTERLY WRONG HE WAS AND THE MATE’S COULD SEE THAT WHILE HE SNOOZED COZY IN HIS BUNK!

once again it is seen that a simple reduction in speed of advance by a nominal amount can pay dividends many times their small initial cost.


Well, since our time to destination is X it’ll be X +2 hours to check on the container.


What a story. I don’t believe a word of it. The ship was heeling due to wind! Water entered the hull through openings at the 2nd deck. There was water in a hold with vehicles floating around. To stop heeling the ship was ballasted at sea. The bilge pumps could not empty the holds/hull, bla, bla, bla. It sounds that the ship was not seaworthy, so the only solution was to blame everything on the poor Master. I have experienced it many times before - latest http://heiwaco.com/news8.htm


The old ship was not seaworthy, or at most, only marginally seaworthy. But Davidson knew that. So did Tote.


Doesn’t seem like both things can be true. That TOTE and the captain both knew the ship was not seaworthy AND Tote demanded that the captain drive it hard into bad weather to stay on schedule.