“The Clock Is Ticking”: Inside the Worst U.S. Maritime Disaster in Decades

The Clock Is Ticking”: Inside the Worst U.S. Maritime Disaster in Decades

by William Langewiesche - same author as the article about flight AF 447

Very disturbing read. Almost as disturbing as the transcripts from the recorder. . . .

Could be fiction but it was not, it was brutal reality…

Riehm got on the ship’s internal telephone—the house phone—and rang Davidson. The recording microphones picked up only the bridge side of the conversation, but Davidson’s responses can be surmised. Riehm wanted him to come to the bridge. He said, “Hey, Captain, sorry to wake you. . . . Naw, nothing, and, uh, the latest weather just came in, and thought you might want to take a look at it. So yeah if you have a chance . . . Just looking at the forecast and looking at our track line, which way it’s going, and, uhhh, thought you might wanna take a look at it.” Davidson seems to have asked him to explain. Riehm gave him the numbers and said, “So I assume it stays on that same—moves in that same direction for, say, the next five hours. And, so, it’s advancing toward our track line and puts us real close to it.” Davidson replied for nearly a minute, during which time Riehm said, “O.K. . . . yeah, yeah . . . O.K. . . . O.K.”

After he got off the phone Riehm plotted the storm’s predicted position and looked at the escape route, which would involve a strong right turn to the south into the passage past Crooked Island and on to the Old Bahama Channel beyond. He called Davidson back. He said, “So at 0400 we’ll be 22 miles from the center, with max 100 and gusts to 120 and strengthening.” Those speeds were in knots. He said, “So . . . the option that we do have—from what I can see—is at 0200 we could head south, and that would open it up some.” Davidson dismissed the plan with a thank-you and did not come to the bridge. Evidence suggests that he was still showing a preference for the animated B.V.S. graphics, which indicated the storm progressing more slowly.

What the fucking hell, what a clusterfuck.

Pitching more violently, , the ship was starting to pound. Davis recommended slowing down. They were approaching the waypoint where Davidson’s route plan called for the significant turn to the left, taking the ship, as the captain believed, across the path of the hurricane in its yellow zone, a safe distance from the eye. Randolph did not want to do it. She called Davidson on the house phone and told him that the hurricane was now a Category 3. He knew that already. She proposed the escape route to the south and a smooth sail on to San Juan. He rejected her suggestion. Despite the uncertainties in the forecast, he was so convinced of his strategy that he was able to sleep. He had not yet even downloaded the latest B.V.S. package, e-mailed to his computer at 11 P.M. the previous night. He finally downloaded the package at 4:45 in the morning, when the data it was based on was 11 hours old.

It’s like a train crash in slow motion where the victims are standing still on the tracks waiting to die.

What a horror story, regret reading the last part.

Well done by the author, I had to stop reading a few times. It is still disturbing even after the transcript, and many other reads.

The only part I enjoyed was some excellent profanity by Danielle. RIP brothers and sisters.

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indeed well done and accurate in its description of the situation…however very, very painful to read that the master deliberately drove on through the night asleep and oblivious to the peril that all the others could see them driving towards. it makes me sick to my very core to contemplate

So…badly run company running ill informed crew running a sh1t heap.
All up to Class and USCG standards?


As good a summary as any,

As is usually the case, the catastrophe was unfolding because of a combination of factors that had aligned, which included: Davidson’s caution with the home office; his decision to take a straight-line course; the subtle pressures to stick to the schedule; the systematic failure of the forecasts; the persuasiveness of the B.V.S. graphics; the lack of a functioning anemometer; the failure by some to challenge Davidson’s thinking more vigorously; the initial attribution of the ship’s list entirely to the winds; and finally a certain mental inertia that had overcome all of them. This is the stuff of tragedy that can never be completely explained.


Remember, Class and USCG standards are a minimum. Not to relieve either in their responsibility, however it IS up to the owner and operators. Since the this first happened, I have had nagging questions in the back of my mind about some issues. . . . but I will keep them to myself. . .

sounds lik you need foreign operators run by non USA authorities to make shipping safe inside the USA, lol

which we all know as a company weighing the odds of a loss occurring vs. the cost to make a ship as safe as possible against a low probability event and we also know that very few who are willing to pay even a modest premium to mitigate loss since they see the probability being low enough. If the probabilities were higher then they might be willing to spend the dollars in the best lifesaving equipment say.

well I hope you will as they are very likely to be a touchstone to a very important discussion here. I certainly am of the belief that Davidson chose to hold fast to the route from commercial pressure by TOTE which compromised his judgement. Could there be any other reason for him to decide to not choose the safe route and hold to the dangerous one? Certainly he could not have become a master if he were utterly obtuse to peril?

Overconfidence in the quality (recency of data) of the weather prediction information he was receiving from the commercial supplier compared to other means (NOAA).

The quality of the information was good, but the Captain did not know how to use it.

It’s fresh goods, you have to use it when you receive it. That’s why it’s moronic that the Captains office computer was the receiving station and not the bridge computer.

He had not yet even downloaded the latest B.V.S. package, e-mailed to his computer at 11 P.M. the previous night. He finally downloaded the package at 4:45 in the morning, when the data it was based on was 11 hours old.

This is just infuriating to read.

Except it’s not fresh goods. The information was outdated already by the time he received it onboard. The SAT-C was broadcasting the most up to date information available and he didn’t know it was better than his weather program data.

I’m using the same company Stormgeo for weather information and the forecast is clearly marked with date and time of creation. It’s just a tool like everything else and has to be supplemented with other information. That the Captain did not know how to use it is on him not the supplier.

I believe the assertion was that creation of those forecasts lagged several hours behind the NOAA forecasts made from the same data.

Yes. Basically the BVS forecasts were roughly one data cycle behind the NOAA forecasts do they were outdated by the time they were released. Normally that’s not a bad thing but with hurricanes it is.

Did I ever say otherwise?

I misunderstood you. My first impression was that you blamed the supplier, but I was wrong.

This is from NTSB, shows BVS and NWS the morning of the 30th, almost matching:


Below is the next update 12 hrs later at , 1700 hrs with the EF route change.


Below is the SAT-C (in red) that prompted that 3/m to call the captain at about 2300 hrs


Below is the BVS rcvd by the ship at about 2300 hrs but not downloaded until 04:45

Both the NWS and BVS positions for the center have errors, neither position would have resulted in the El Faro experiencing winds on the port beam. The correct position, in black would have and if fact did.

EDIT: The NWS forecasts in this case stated that the position errors for the center was 30 miles. It common to see the position errors stated to be 60 miles on the NWS analysis.

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