NTSB El Faro Report Meeting


I ask this question: how many times a year do ships find themselves in weather like the El Faro encountered?

Include any reason: incompetence, caught by surprise, planned routing…

I think all agree the route of the ship was the beginning of the tragedy. But, how many captains make the same errors in routing each year but their ship doesn’t sink?

My point is mistakes happen. Folks are going to misjudge weather. Was the weather that much worse than what you old salts have seen in the North Atlantic or Alaska?

This capt and crew were making decisions based on the assumption their ship was inspected and seaworthy. When I step on the brake pedal in my car, I expect the brakes to work and slow me down. If I rear end somebody at a red light due to brake failure, you can’t tell me “gee, you should’ve started slowing down 2 miles before the intersection.”

El Faro and Buys Ballot Law

I wonder if things might change if the Classification Society’s were employed by the insurance companies and the shipowner dealt only with the insurer. Every one needs the business but in some cases deficiencies are overlooked to keep the customer (shipowner) sweet.
An AHTS in Vietnam was registered in Belize. There was no flag state regulations. At the time a Canadian judge could not extradite a fraudster from Belize to the USA because he couldn’t find any law pertaining to Belize.
If you stood in the Forepeak tank you could damm near see the afterpeaks which didn’t worry the Classification Society. The entire fleet was known as “Reg’s rent-a-wrecks.”


When you drive a 50 year old car, you know that you need to do a good inspection once in awhile and drive conservatively. You should know better that to hot rod it.

You also know that if your friendly local inspection station isn’t really doing its job (they put a new sticker on almost anything — just like the USCG and ABS) , then you have to do your own inspection of the basics like brakes (or water tight enclosures).

You can’t just assume that you can hot rod your 50 year old car and it will perform like a new one.


A better analogy would be if:

you were driving 80 mph in a 50 mph zone - Even new ships should avoid hurricanes. excess risk.

You were driving the wrong way down a one-way street - El Faro drove into the dangerous semi-circle

And your brakes failed on your 50 year old beater. Old ship, lack of watertight integrity.

The excess speed and the wrong way driving turned the result of a brake failure from fender bender to deadly fireball head-on collision.


There has been constant argument on this site about the validity of the Jones Act and the resulting limitations on the operation of non US flag ships on the American coast, but one thing which has resulted from the regulation is a sort of enclosed environment in which a limited number of US flag ships operate. We would think that every vessel involved must be well known to the US Coast Guard, a vast and well equipped organisation and also that they should be familiar to ABS – the American Bureau of Shipping – likely to be the only classification society involved with them. But despite what we might see as the intensive levels of oversight, the El Faro was still found to be wanting in terms of its construction and operational guidance, both areas dealt with by class, either on behalf of the regulators or on behalf of the insurers. So if the inspection process does not work for US flag ships what hope is there for those registered in the rest of the world (excluding Norway of course). But getting back to a fundamental, old age is no excuse for lack of integrity. If your ship is not seaworthy – well, the name speaks for itself.


The USCG is a branch of the US military that operates within the Department of Homeland Security. Its focus is “national security”, terrorism, drug interdiction, and law enforcement. In other words, the fun stuff that justifies carrying bigger guns.

Traditional USCG functions like aids to navigation, rescue, Mariner licensing, and ship inspection are boring and shrinking sidelines that the USCG has lost interest in. Thus the increased reliance on third party inspectors, like ABS and others. Not to mention allowing private license prep schools, including employer operated schools, to administer USCG exams.

Like the US Navy, USCG Officers are mostly generalists that are rotated through a wide variety of duties, so they often don’t develop much expertise in one area. They are promotion focused.

I’m not sure what tickets a USCG Officer has to get punched for promotion, or what types of duty carry the best promotion potential, but my guess would be national security, terrorism, drug interdiction, etc. I doubt that a licensing and inspection specialty have much promotion potential.

Furthermore, there are not enough large US ships left for the USCG to inspect in order to develop and maintain ship inspection expertise.

The USCG simply lacks ship inspection expertise. Ship inspection expertise will never be a serious goal, much less an actual competency, unless the number of US flag ships increases.

If the Jones Act were repealed, the USCG would have so few ships left to inspect, that they would end up delegating all ship inspection to ABS and other third parties.

What’s the cure? Build and maintain more US flag ships. How would we do that? The only way to do it would be more “protectionism.” There is no other way.


Except they are the ones that know the vessel intimately and know whether it’s seaworthy or not. Inspections are just supposed to be to keep cheap companies from cutting maintenance corners, not a guarantee of seaworthiness.


That’s right, but it’s not just the defects the crew knows about. Getting pounded in heavy weather is when flaws that were not known about before hand are reveled. While encountering heavy weather is also the time when the crew is least able to deal with problems.

Also recall the scuttle left open. That was an error the crew could have recovered from had the ship not been taken into such heavy weather. The open scuttle had nothing to do with any inspections.


Yes, indeed.
However, here the mistake did not just happen; it persisted for many, many hours.
Against the newer evidences from the weather information at hand, the route did still work with a north going hurricane to be passed on its west side, as presumed a day before.

Joaquin did never turn north before the ship went down; on the bridge, the mates were fully aware of this…


Det Norske Veritas was no better or worse than any of the other Classification Societies that I dealt with over the years. They classed two pallet loading coastal vessels where the Naval Architect had been asleep at the drafting table. They both had a substantial negative GM light ship. They survived years of trading in tropical cyclone prone areas but when sold to the third world both sank with all hands.
I have been involved in changing class from Det Norske Veritas to Bureau Veritas to carry French passengers under the French flag and I have seen old tonnage reclassed from Germanicher Lloyd to ABS which might be an indication of where ABS sits in the scheme of things.


I just posted the perception of classification societies ranking somewhere on here.
Look it up cause I can’t remember.


So some are less corrupt and shitty than others, that doesn’t mean any of them are worth anything.


I’ve been down on the farm since I retired. I didn’t know that DNV and GL had merged.


Heiwa. You are so right.


Every crew knows how seaworthy the ship is.


I agree, that’s why our plans should take into account the possibility of error.

If we do a piston pull the engineers don’t just button things up and leave when they’re done, the roll the engine over on air first. Then we we leave they keep close eye out for problems such as fuel leaks. I also usually let the pilot know we just did major engine work, sometimes we give the engine a kick as a check while we’re still just off the dock with the tugs made fast.

This was one major issue the El Faro, it’s the nature of tropical cyclones that the forecast can have large errors. That fact should be kept in mind when route planning. It’s not just the error, it’s the failure to catch, or trap the error.


EDIT: Another point about tropical cyclones as compared to mid-latitude systems, in a tropical system the energy is concentrated in a small area.

If the El Faro had encountered a mid-latitude system of similar strength they likely would have had a lot more time to prepare, button up, check lashings. Things can change very dramatically near a tropical system in just a couple hours.


Davidson’s bravado led him into buying into his own false sense of infallibility and how he misinterpreted his location relative to the eye.

How many masters here on any kind of vessel would have gone to sleep and ignored the mates calls from the bridge pleading for guidance as they headed into a tropical system which like all other systems do not behave exactly as predicted. It’s mind boggling.


I think it’s not possible for anyone to say with certainty if they would have made this error not. I’m sure we’d all like to think we wouldn’t.

But I think most peoples thinking is this guy is an idiot and I’m not so this would never happen to me. That’s a mistake, better to see what lessons can be leaned.

The loss of the Bounty was discussed on this forum, the thinking here was an incident like that would never happen to a professional crew, but now it has.

This was Andy Chase’s point in this article.

Lessons of the BOUNTY Drawing experience from tragedy

by G. Anderson Chase,

The mate went on to say that when he did, in fact, question the captain’s plan to sail toward Sandy, the captain replied that he had seen worse than what was forecast, and it would be okay. I guess he had learned what I had learned from my “experience.” We can take it. We’re stronger now than we ever have been.


I think it is possible. I don’t think this guy was an idiot and also can say that I would not have made this error and it’s not that I would like to think that I wouldn’t but that I SURE AS HELL WOULDN’T, no thinking required.
What lessons could be learned? Not to go to sleep while approaching a weather system by its very nature unpredictable and ignore it? Not to “sleep like a baby” while ignoring mates worried calls?
I feel like shit even posting about this because I never met the man, by all accounts a good man with a loving family and now they have to live with people debating his competence in public.
You call his actions an error. According to the dictionary, an error is “a mistake, inaccuracy, miscalculation, blunder, oversight”.
His role in the tragedy was a series of what you can call mistakes, inaccuracies or oversights. Call it what you will but put yourself in his quarters with the weather information he was aware of even as the voyage began.
How could you not bring up your best game. How could you not later detect deep concern when your mates called you to tell you conditions were changing and things didn’t look right, that it was important enough that they were willing to wake your ass up to tell you so.
This was no error, it was gross negligence. You can introduce questions about the timidity of the mates or the inadequacies of the lashings or the lack of interest on the part of the lackeys in the TOTE office or the flawed inspection system, or the part played by the shortcomings of the BVS but they are flailing attempts at making sense of an avoidable catastrophe.
That’s because we can’t wrap our brains around the captain’s behavior and so have to look for a cause somewhere else.
The Bounty’s captain was engaged. Comparison may be valid in outcome but not in behavior.