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

18 degree list. We know from this thread Hydrostatics that a ship WILL capsize when the list is at max GZ. Now look at this GZ curve.

The ship at this point was still taking on water.


I didn’t vote for Trump and I agree with him. But way to make it political for no reason. You have no proof it was the 1st Engineer’s fault. Saying it’s his fault is pathetic. Everybody is just making guesses off the little information they have.

The ship sank cause it took on water uncontrollably. Thats it. End of story.

The open or broken scuttle was one cause of that. and I believe (if i remember the report correctly) the fire pump piping being broken was another.

Situational awareness? Engine room advised the bridge of the list

Yes a civil discussion is necessary for a reasonable means of discussion.

Does it say anywhere how much of the list was due to wind heel? Davidson credited the initial attribution of the ship’s list entirely to the winds. When the ship turned with the wind now to the starboard side the ship flipped, it now became a port list.

I know this is not entirely on topic but my curiosity has peaked.

I read in Bowditch that at times it is believed that if caught in the eye of a hurricane that it could be best to let the ship hunt on its own under no power for the best heading. If he were to eliminate the issue with the scuttle being opened and the list, do you feel that they would have been in a position that when they lost power, all would have fared well?

When I read that section in Bowditch I have always been curious as to how that was determined. The way it was written made it seem like it was a theory at best…

Like you said I think that section is “theory at best.” Mostly based on in that section of a hurricane you’ll have confused seas, rather then seas in a particular direction. Also I’d assume when it was written you didn’t have containerized cargo on deck that would effect stability as cargo is lost or damaged.

There is an old adage: “a good boat will scare you to death long before it drowns you.”

Sometimes “lying a hull” is a good strategy for survival in a small boat caught in a storm. And sometimes it isn’t.

None of this applies to a 40 year old 800’ ro-ro ship with cargo breaking loose and flooding in a category 3 hurricane.

With a cargo of vehicles on wheels and springs, and heavy rolling, its only a question of when, not if, the cargo breaks the lashings and does a lot of damage sliding back and forth from one side of the ship to the other. Not to mention the adverse effect on stability.


When the turn was made to change the list from stbd to port there were cars loose in the hold. The NTSB (and the crew) believes that those loose cars struck and damaged the fire main.

Thus, the NTSB concludes that it is likely that the seawater piping below the waterline to the vessel’s emergency fire pump in cargo hold 3 was inadequately protected from impact and was struck by one or more cars that had broken free of their lashings.

The NTSB estimated that completely severing the 6-inch inlet to the emergency fire piping
would have initially allowed about 600 long tons of water per hour into the hold. The Coast Guard Marine Safety Center report (MSC 2017) summarized earlier (in section 1.12.10) shows that partially flooding hold 3 (at 0.7 permeability) to 10 percent would fill it with 693 long tons of

It’s silly to think that as long as the captain can give helm and engine orders the ship won’t sink.

The entire “who is at fault” argument is bogus anyway.


you have to wonder when the word “cars” was used if they knew it was autos only or possibly other heavier cargo? the weight of automobiles is low and possibly not of enough mass to cause other cargo to come adrift but if there was any suspicion that heavy equipment was also loose the potential to have a great cascading of cargo to the low side was far greater upon making that fateful turn. I can understand the need to get the scuttle closed but was there a risk analysis done before the helm put over? I do believe there did end up being a mass of loose cargo all falling to the low side after the turn as there was a low thud heard in the VDR recording and I believe even comments made when it was heard on the bridge?

as long as the flooding could not be stopped the ship was going to go down and once enough flooding occurred and righting arm lost, it is likely she would capsize even if flooding was stopped. Even with the scuttle secured, the combination of the weight of water in the holds, the free surface effect, the offcenter weight of adrift cargo and the wind heel all would cause a tremendous list which very likely caused the ventilators to submerge leading to further downflooding. Retaining steering in those conditions could do nothing to reduce that list and the vents being submerged. if they had kept the prop turning, it should have allowed the ship to stay head up to the wind (or close to it) but the list was still going to be there. Losing the steering as they did accelerated the downflooding and the eventual rolling on her beam ends and loss. I would think unless lots of water could be pumped out of the hold very quickly they had little chance to survive one hour more even if the lube oil loss didn’t send them into the trough lying ahull. Their only real chance to not capsize was to catch the flooding earlier than they did and heave to before too much water got in. Where that fatal moment was we will never know but very likely imo before Davidson even came to the bridge at 0445. where do you think the flooding got past the point of no return?

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A couple of hours before his eternal sleep a refreshed Davidson came to the bridge and said almost cheerfully: “There’s nothing bad about this ride. . . . I was sleepin’ like a baby.” It seems he did not have an idea, a clue of the peril the ship and crew was in. Total unawareness, unbelievable.

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I certainly wouldn’t know, but I suspect that:

The longshoremen (and Tote) do cost efficient fairweather lashings on the Jax to PR run, Not Alaska heavy weather lashing,

Most of the cargo was on springs and wheels (the trailers were probably NOT jacked up with blocks secured between the axles and the frame of the trailer to prevent the springs from working),

Once propulsion was lost, even if there had been no flooding, laying to in a beam sea, it was only a question of time until some cargo would break loose, and

Once some cargo breaks loose and starts hammering other cargo and lashings, virtually all the cargo in that space is going break loose and essentially become like a liquid full of sharp edged boulders flowing from side to side with each roll, making heavy damage inevitable.

In my uninformed view as a tug and barge Mariner, once propulsion was lost, the primary question for survival became: Can we restore propulsion before too much cargo breaks loose and the ship rolls over.

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According to the NTSB report the critical moment was most likely when the ship was turned to put the wind on the starboard side. That was likely when the fire main got hit at 600 tons of water/hr.

They also say it may have been before that because the crew reported a trailer “hanging” earlier.

NTSB believe the cars may have broken free because of the weight of the water sloshing across the holds.

The cars were not lashed according to the lashing manual and there was enough water for them to float. This was the hold with the emergency fire pump.

This photo is from th the El Yunque - the car on the El Faro were lashed the same way.

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it pains me to say it but perhaps Davidson really was utterly obtuse and had no sense of the sea? how such a man could rise to master boggles my mind…do these companies not care to have a seasoned, cautious, knowledgeable man in command or is anyone who just doesn’t squawk too much just fine by them?

you know here I am going to continue saying that the master is the one at fault because he took the ship into perilous seas without having a justifiable reason to. keep EL FARO sixty odd miles to the NW of the eye and there is no disaster because there is no flooding, no cargo adrift and no loss of propulsion. maybe 30 miles or even 20 would have been enough. All Davidson need have done is have the watch reduce speed to 12kts at 2200 and they all would be alive today. BUT WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T HE?

Those lashings certainly don’t look like much to me.

I don’t like lashing to idler chains instead of chain pockets or pad eyes.

By lashing directly to the wheels, they avoid the problem of the springs compressing and slacking the lashings, and shock loading the slack with every roll. The made for the purpose poly strap wheel “bags” that surround the tire and wheel are a lot better.

Those little poly flat straps through the “spokes” of the aluminum wheel rims certainly look light and prone to chafing, or breaking the “spokes” out of the rims.

I assume El Faro was mostly loaded with box trailers and containers on chassis. Those little cars wouldn’t be much of a load.

Rest assured if the El Faro was on the Alaskan service the lashing would have been according to the cargo securing manual or more so. On the Puerto Rican run it doesn’t take long for complacency to set in. There are subtle pressures that also come into play. Less lashing means lower longshoremen cost and a way to get the ship out faster. Hell, I have seen it on the Hawaiian service on the Matson ships with their parking garages. It doesn’t take but a few good rollings for total chaos to ensue.

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What sane person decided it was okay to lash vehicles with idler chains or whatever they are called. The 10 vehicle carriers I have worked on have never employed this type of setup. A purpose built Ro-Ro without an appropriate number of cloverleafs/lashing pockets/d rings should have had them added years ago.

This talk of “Alaska lashing” and “heavy weather lashing” is making me sick. Vehicles are lashed for sea, end of story.

Tugsailor- The industry standard for PCTC’s is to use looped straps on a bite through the rims on used vehicles or new cars that don’t have lashing points.

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In plain language, everything about El Faro on the Jax to PR run was a shit show.


My heart is with Danielle Randolph, the real mariner and man on the bridge. She saw it all happening, even e-mailed her mother about her bad feelings how this would end. As William Langewiesche puts it in his article: “Salt of the earth” or rather “Salt of the sea”. I salute her!

Randolph was a Mainer. Salt of the earth. She said, “We’re going to go right through the fucking eye.”