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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


“Inside the Worst U.S. Maritime Disaster in Decades”. I would consider the Deepwater Horizon a worse disaster when you factor in the pollution aspect as well. Just my take and I mean to offense to the lives lost here. thanks for posting, good read. Agree/diagree?


TOTE Alaska is completely separate from TOTE Jacksonville so you have ZERO idea how they operate. It’s also been quite some time since you’ve worked for them so you don’t really know how the modern management team operates, even in Alaska.


That’s complete bullshit. If the chosen route can’t handle the ship losing propulsion at any point then you shouldn’t be on that route.


The numbers from cargomax reflected closer to 26" of oil in the sump if you look at the tonnage entered and correct for the incorrect specific gravity used in the program. Plus, as everyone else has commented on multiple threads the mate likely never altered the sump tonnage in the program as it isn’t enough difference to ever matter for stability.

See this section of TOTE’s report as posted on another thread:


Much Testomony has been documented regarding to the loss of 33 lives on the SS El Faro.
Please tell me, as the father of the Chief Engineer. Why wasn’t the Company,/on shore engineers, and other “Experts”. Aware of the lube Oul standard level.
I have attended several USCG, and NTSB hearings/testimonies.
NEVER did I hear, or read a question what was the prescribed recommended lube oil level on the SS El Faro? A pompous captain stated that the Crew was inexperienced. ( what constitutes an Experienced mariner)? The answer is truly subjective. Especiassily the testimoney at the MBI hearings coming from a mariner who had a questionable legal standing.
As the father of the CE my first question was, What was the LO sump level. ( i never sailed, although i was in charge of an LNG plant in NYC). The USCG never asked the hard questions.
For those of us who have taken over a Plant from seasoned professionals. I respected their knowledge. However, during the benefit of “down time” I was capable of ;[reviewing specifications of the plant. Then incorporating the original specifications. This occurred infrequently.
DON” t pin the loss of the 33 lives on anyone of the engineers.
Thank you,
Frank Pusatere


If anyone on this forum knew the CE, or his life experiences.
They would know that his parents were the first, and hardest critics during his life.
Second We Loved, Richard, and are welcoming honest, and objective reply’s.
Are YOU up to this challenge?
Please, dont hold back!


Everyone was aware of the correct level. The engine manual that TOTE supplied to the NTSB says 27". Engineering logs show they kept the sump at the correct level.


Thank You Captain!


I don’t believe anyone used those terms. It does appear the vehicle lashing was not per the cargo securing manual. I hate to say it but when you are on a passage that is less than 3 days in duration, and more often than not has good weather, it is easy for these (lashing) short cuts to become more and more the norm. Is it right, no. I dare say if any of the vehicle carriers you worked on were on this milk run, over time you would begin to see it. The key is for the crew (i.e., Captain and Mate) to push back against the Terminal.


The NTSB got it right when they said the captain underestimating the strength of a hurricane and overestimating the ship’s strength.

Some of these detail hide that basic fact.

What if everything had failed at the exact same moment? Big wave hit, the ship rolled, water poured through the vents, the lashing gear parted, the main engine quit, the fire main got destroyed and internal watertight doors didn’t hold.

Then we would say it was because the ship was taken into weather it shouldn’t have been. But if any one thing fails before the other that is taken as the cause. Except it wasn’t. It was the fact an old ship was steered into a hurricane.

Something’s going to give first.


Usually, lashing is done in accordance with the customs of the particular route and trade for the time of year. Good weather routes and summertime requires less lashing. Severe weather routes in winter require extra lashing. Another factor is the length of the voyage through areas where bad weather is apt to occur.

Of course on a fast ship the voyage is shorter ands it’s possible to inspect and retighten lashings underway. A barge is slow and no one is going to go aboard to inspect or retighten lashings outside of protected waters.