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


I don’t mind if people don’t like my opinion. But you as a super moderator should step in when people like WT Sherman just tell me to “f*uk off”. The rules of the forum should be enforced, the discussion should be civil, and you, as a moderator, should know that.


Again, I think Tote Alaska is a mature quality operation that is several orders of magnitude above that shit show in Jacksonville.


Welcome to thunderdome


It was the chief for the riding gang that came to the bridge and told Davidson that a 15 degree list was not normal and was a problem. It was the engineers who informed the bridge that the hold was flooding and it was the engine room that told the bridge that the scuttle was open.

It was the chief eng that helped the mate close the scuttle. So the engineers are to blame? Marine engineers need to make it safe to steer a ship into the eyewall of a hurricane?

Maybe the deckies need to step up their game? Like learn how to locate the direction to the eye without a computer.


I may not be a “super moderator” but am one of the most vocal contributors here and am your professional equal so let me just say that what you get from other members in this forum by trying to blame a dead engineer for the ship’s loss is rightly deserved. if you aren’t more respectful of your limited tenure in this place you will be getting more of the same from other longstanding members…quite likely from me!

so whine on if you will but be prepared for the blowback!

what the man said! comprende senor?


Do you blame the engineers when you clog the toilet in your cabin also?


The third mate has something he wants to teach you.

(Davidson): Ship’s solid.”

(Third Mate ) Riehm said, “The ship is solid. It’s just all the associated bits and pieces. The hull itself is fine. The plant no problem. It’s all the shit that shakes and breaks loose.”


This guy should change his name to Farnham and start running Colliers.


At 0543, the captain received a call that there was a problem in hold 3 and said that he
would send the chief mate down. He told the chief mate to go to the hold and start pumping. The
chief mate mentioned a “suspected leak” and “the scuttle.” At 0544, the captain said, “We got cars
Beginning at 0545, the chief mate spoke on the electric telephone to a crewmember in the
engine room and said, “So that’s where the water’s from?” and “Are we able to pump the bilges?”
The captain took over the call and confirmed that the bilge pump was running and the water was
rising. He asked about pumping water from the starboard ramp tank to the port tank and said,
“Let’s do that.” By now the ship was leaning to starboard, possibly about 18°, and its speed had
dropped to 2.8 knots.

So before propulsion was lost, water was rising, cars were loose.

At 0554, the captain began giving orders to turn El Faro from 060° to 350°

0613 the plant is lost.

At 0706, the captain was connected to the DP and informed him that the ship was listing
to port and had lost propulsion because “the engineers cannot get lube oil pressure.” He said the
crew was safe, that they had secured the source of the water flooding the vessel, and that engineers
were pumping out the flooded hold. He said they had a “very, very healthy port list” and that the
crew was “taking every measure to get the list off.” He told the DP that no one was panicking and
that “our safest bet is to stay with the ship . . . the weather is ferocious out here.” He reported 10
to 12 feet of spray, high winds, and poor visibility. He said the list was 10° to 15°

Using an 18 degree list, with an oil level less than the logbook typically reflected:

The Coast Guard Marine Safety Center modeled and analyzed the lube oil levels in the
main engine sump in a static condition. The safety center concluded that with 1,226 gallons of oil
in the sump, as was likely on the accident voyage, and a 5-foot trim by the stern (0.4°), the
bellmouth opening of the line leading from the sump to the lube oil pumps would break the oil’s
surface at an 18°

The 1 A/E is at fault here?

According to engine logbooks for the year preceding the accident, the level of lube oil in
the main engine sump was ordinarily maintained at between 23 and 28 inches, and at 25 or
26 inches in the months before the accident. The last recorded level of lube oil in the sump was
26 inches, from the engine log of September 1. No levels of more than 29 inches were found in
any records during the period investigated. The former El Faro chief engineer, who last sailed
aboard El Faro in 2012, testified that when he sailed on TOTE’s Ponce-class vessels before 2012,
standard operating procedure required the level of oil in the sump to be kept at 28 to 32 inches. He
said he would operate with the oil at the “upper level just for safety factor to make sure there was
plenty of lube oil in the system.” He said that sometimes, depending on the weather and other
conditions, the sump level was raised to 30 or 32 inches.

An off-duty chief engineer with recent experience on El Faro told the first marine board
that the lube oil in the main engine was normally maintained at about 27 inches in the sump.

TOTE provided investigators with a copy of the machine operating manual from
El Yunque. The manual stated: “When necessary, add lube oil from the storage/settling tank to the
sump via purifier to maintain the normal level at 27 inches.

So the former C/E’s give two answers about typical sump levels, the last logbook shows 1" under the “normal level” The cargomax program shows a different level. You blame the first for the level of the sumps. Then complain when I asked you for evidence or to fuck off with blaming the 1 A/E

They had big issues long before propulsion was ever lost. Claiming you know the oil level in the sump, and then blaming the 1st is fucking ridiculous.


The loss of the El Faro makes a lot more sense to me now. I was assuming that TOTE captains had a basic knowledge of hurricane avoidance. Now I’m thinking they don’t.

If the assumption is made that the captains lacked a basic understanding of hurricane avoidance that explains how the El Faro could continue to pound it way toward the dangerous side of the eye wall with hurricane winds on the port side.

It also explains why Davidson referred to Joaquin as a “low” and and keep repeating how it was like everyday Alaska.

He didn’t understand the difference between an extratropical cyclone as experienced in Alaska and a tropical cyclone.

Here’s Bowditch:

Although it (a tropical cyclone) generally resembles the extratropical cyclone of higher latitudes, there are important differences, the principal one being the concentration of a large amount of energy into a relatively small area

Because of their fury, and because they are predominantly oceanic, they merit special attention by mariner

A tropical storm may have a deceptively small size, and beautiful weather may be experienced only a few hundred miles from the center. The rapidity with which the weather can deteriorate with approach of the storm, and the violence of the fully developed tropical cyclone, are difficult to imagine if they have not been experienced.

I’m thinking that the experience with extratropical storms in Alaskan waters caused TOTE captains to underestimate the power of a tropical system.

EDIT: Arrogance and lack of understanding of tropical systems also explains why Davidson dismissed the concerns of the mates.He saw himself as an “Alaskan” mariners, the mates were, in Davidson’s eye’s “fair weather” sailors" just scared of “a cap full of wind”.

I wouldn’t have believed an experienced mariner could have such a mix of ignorance and arrogance but that seems to be the only plausible explanation.


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…

Heaving-to in a Gale

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?