“The Captains of Thor — What Really Caused the Loss of the SS El Faro” by Robert Frump

Yesterday was three years since the El Faro was lost.

From Robert Frump

“The Captains of Thor — What Really Caused the Loss of the SS El Faro” Available Free Online and as Kindle ebook

The Captains of Thor is a very good read, some good insights. The title is perfect fit.

I would expect a good book from Frump, he is the author of Till the Sea Shall Free Them about the loss of the Marine Electric .


I’ve been reading this as he was releasing new chapters and think he did a decent job not only for those that sail but others just wanting to learn something.


I commemorated this loss by doing the right thing on my job. I will not give any more details since I still need my job and this industry is a m-f when it comes to black balling whistle blowers.



A great read, I think I was getting dust in my eye a few times. I think he did a great job discussing the unwritten pressures on ship masters in our current era. The constant mispelling of Jack Hearn’s name (as Kearn) and the comparison of freight rates from the mainland US to Hawaii with rates from the mainland US to China was a bit annoying. I’d be interested in his source for the dollar figures he uses. I’m also curious why he didn’t quote rates from China to the US, which would be much more relevant in his example.

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Yes, I thought the same thing. Pressure in general but also the way Frump tells Davidson’s story makes it easier to see how he’d lean towards taking more risk on that voyage. It was several factors, in particular the dysfunctional selection process for the new ships but in general the ethos or culture that had developed with regards to risk taking. Not at the company but on the ships.

One detail I thought was interesting was this Charles Perrow quote:

Yale Professor Charles Perrow applied it specifically to maritime captains:

…we construct an expected world because we can’t handle the complexity of the present one, and then process the information that fits the expected world, and find reasons to exclude the information that might contradict it.

I have only come across the term “expected world” one other time, I recall that phrase was used on page one of the BRM course material in a class I took. The instructions were both former ship pilots and they said that they had discussed the term between themselves but had reached no conclusion and neither was sure as to what the term meant. In fact it is a key term to understanding the Achilles heel of the command structure used by Davidson and on many ships

I have had several non-maritime courses that explore this topic. However, it has always been referred to as “mental model” rather than “expected world.” I think this is better accepted terminology and you will find lots of information if you Google this phrase.

I think you’ll find that aligning your “expected world” or “mental model” with reality is central to the Orient step of John Boyd’s OODA loop.



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Yes, or course. It was interesting (to me at least) that the Bridge Resource Management instructors were familiar with neither with the term nor the concept.

I should have used concept instead of term in my post:

I found that interesting when I took the class, my point here is that:

Yale Professor Charles Perrow applied it specifically to maritime captains:

Which I think makes it even stranger that the instructors were not familiar especially as it was in their own material.

The book Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why By Laurence Gonzales uses the same quote from Perrow but I don’t recall the information that the topic was ship captains.

I think Gonzales has a very good explanation of it here, although it almost seems unbelievable, (for example the story of the kayak guides putting in a flooding river) , but of course Davidson’s actions seem inexplicable as well.

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Speaking to a point he made about peer pressure – I found it surprisingly difficult to turn down going on a delivery trip that I thought was ill advised and ill prepared. The fact that some of the troubles I envisioned did in fact happen (no injuries, fortunately) was in its way soothing to my spirit.

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“mental models” all askew on the treadle? not new news by any means


the simplest fact is Davidson FUCKED UP! His judgement was terrible. He failed to ensure that the EL FARO stayed a safe distance from Joachim’s center of circulation. His mates likewise also FUCKED UP because they could see the ship standing into peril but did not insist that Davidson take appropriate action! 33 persons needlessly drowned in a horrific maelstrom that morning three years ago.

and the US maritime industry today is the same as it was before…nothing has changed

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Agreed and will fix. It’s not my intent to play the old Jones Act song. And can’t believe I blew Jack’s name. Doing this without a net or editor so this is helpful.

Had caught the name issue earlier. I agree the Hawaii container/Shanghai comparison is unfair. It falls into the anti-Jones act agit-prop and that’s not my intent. Don’t think the Jones Act should be repealed.
Sincerely appreciate the edits. If you see other stuff, call me out on it. I want this to be tight and right.

Takes a while for the Kindle changes to show but the free web-site version is now corrected on Kearn/Hearn. I’ve struck the Hawaii comparison. And yes, the China to US rate would be the fair comparison, not the ship-hay-from Long Beach to China rate.But it’s not really my intent to parrot the Anti-Jonesers.

Again, thanks for the catches and critiques. This was written very quickly and without backup or assistance, so when you see something let me know.


Thanks for the interest and comments. The Kindle version will be free through Sunday as a part of an Amazon promotion.


Hi Bob, Thanks for taking that constructively and for your responsiveness. I don’t mind reading arguments for or against the Jone’s Act, I just prefer that real numbers are used. I’ve seen the numbers you had mentioned before in mainstream news, but I’ve never been able to source where they came from. I’ve asked former classmates that are involved in the pricing side of the industry and they’ve never heard of things being that expensive in the CONUS-HI route. Maybe that could the basis of a future article… get quotes to ship a fictitious 40’ reefer container of ice cream to HI and from China.

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I’ve seen the source but they’re “cherry picked” stats and I should have caught that and known better. I’m sure there’s still a big differential but it’s really distracting from what I’m writing about and I’m not anti-cabotage.

Again, many thanks.


I could not figure out how to download the “free” kindle book.

Hi tugsailor… It’s a download off of Amazon … follow this link… “purchase” the kindle for $0… and that will then be available for you kindle… or you can read it on you laptop via Kindle reader… free through Sunday.


Here’s the one source I found… pretty much of a wing shot on their part.
Again if one were to make a valid comparison it would be more meaningful to compare the most valuable leg of each journey – China to Long Beach; Long Beach to HI… where rates would be highest.

But again it really wasn’t my intent to go after the Jones Act… just describe the conditions that lead to retention of the very old ships… and all their attendant problems. My hope, honestly, is that as many of these old girls get sent to scrap, there will be a demand for new ships. And if the cost of new ships is passed on in the form of higher rates, so be it. I firmly believe it is worth preserving the maritime resources we do have and that’s a decent goal for government and the community.

Again, thanks for the catches and critiques. Makes the piece stronger.