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


I agree with you, I will not ignore the obvious. If my response came off is high and mighty it was not my intention.


and I must point out that self same highly self inflated person has yet to offer any form of retraction or apology…SAD!


The vessel is required at all times to comply with the minimum lashing as per the Cargo Securing Manual. If the mate wants to lash more in preparation for expected heavy weather that’s fine, but the Cargo Securing Manual is the legal minimum.


A ship on JAX/SJU run is not going to be up to speed in many areas, crew, riding gang, gear secured. It’s better to learn about problems and holes in your program and fix them in over time in moderately bad weather when the crew can work without elevated risks.

Taking a ship into heavy weather is like an audit. When, not if ship and crew fails it’s better to get a bad grade on something fixable rather than catastrophic failure.

A competent, experienced captain would know that.


A hypothetical question for me still is if the El Faro would have survived sailing through the eye of the hurricane with the plant intact with no list and no flooding. She would have had a better fighting chance but I am doubtful about the outcome.


In 1990, the Italian truck ferry ‘Espresso Trapani’ on a trip from northern Italy (Livorno) to Sicily (Trapani) had a nice voyage, clear weather and flat sea.
Three miles off Trapani port there are some dispersed rocks, where the ship had to do a 90° left turn. The lashings of the trucks were removed in view of the imminent arrival.

The ship was either to fast or the rudder to hard, the ship heeled over und sank in a few minutes in >100 meters of water. Thirteen of the fifty-one on board were dead.

With light weather lashings still in place, would the ship have survived? Who knows!
This was an error on the bridge, but a emergency manoeuvre can always be necessary.


At the time of the sinking, Joaquin was still becoming an exemplary textbook hurricane; the satellites could not yet see an eye. I do not know how it looked at sea level, if there was a defined eye wall.

Inside an eye there are only vertical, descending air movements; but the waves produced by the storm leading from outside to the wall continue from all directions into the eye; probably producing a rather crazy sea.

In addition, how long would you like to stay in the eye? Until the extinction of the hurricane?


by this very scenario you pose the ship would of course survive since it would retain intact righting arm and reserve buoyancy…it was the loss of both which lead to the ship laying on her side and then going down. I would think a better question to ask is if the scuttle in question not have been left open, would flooding still have taken place through ventilators which I believe would have occurred but would enough water have come in to endanger the ship? we know that the ventilator trucks were open to the sea and in a poor state of repair but that is a question we can never answer. as long as the inflow been low enough that the bilge pumps could keep up that likely no loss. the other question is if cargo would have come adrift? also we can never know for sure, but if the master could maintain a heading to keep rolling in check then the lashings should have held long enough to make it through. the cars were lightly lashed but we don’t know about fully loaded trailers or other heavy equipment in the lower hold? hopefully they were lashed well enough with double chains right to solid points on the deck and not to other chains.


With the plant intact with no list and no flooding…My guess is that she would be running up to Alaska right now.


From NTSB report:

At 0510 hrs:

The riding crew supervisor explained the effects of the low-pressure alarm for lube oil in
the main engine. He said, “I’ve never seen it list like this—you gotta be takin’ more than a
container stack. I’ve never seen it hang like this.” The captain said their speed was maintaining at 11 knots and that rpm were over 100.

At 0514, the captain ordered a heading more to the north, into the wind. (The heading
seemed to have deviated from the 050° previously ordered.) At 0518, the captain said, “Only gonna get better from here. . . . we’re on the back side of it.” The chief mate said, “(eighteen) degree list on . . .” 52 The vessel’s speed was now 5.8 knots.

With the captain trying to hold the bow into the wind the C/M reports an 18 degree list.

Figure 60. Righting arm curves for El Faro, with annotated downflooding angles. Downflooding
angles are indicated at various points on curves for convenience; they do not represent values
used in righting-arm calculations. (Illustration by Coast Guard Marine Safety Center)

This was while the scuttle was still open.

At 0521, the VDR recorded a wind speed of 108 knots (the highest wind speed in the
parametric data). At 0522, the riding crew supervisor asked how fast the storm was moving. The captain said it had stalled at 5 knots. The chief mate said the last he had seen was 4 knots: “Just sitting there.” At 0530, a canopy on the bridge wing blew away. The chief mate said that the relative wind direction had changed (“The spray is hittin’ us instead of goin’ cross the beam”) and that they were taking water on the stern.


Has anyone else here ever read Conrad’s novella, “Typhoon”?


Davidson had been on the phone again with the engine room. When he got off, he said, “Just the list. The sumps are actin’ up. To be expected.”


He thought he had not managed to make himself understood. “Our boats—I say boats—the boats, sir! Two gone!”

The same voice, within a foot of him and yet so remote, yelled sensibly, “Can’t be helped.”

Captain MacWhirr had never turned his face, but Jukes caught some more words on the wind.

“What can—expect—when hammering through—such—Bound to leave—something behind—stands to reason.”


Yes. And Conrad’s “Typhoon” is excerpted as an Appendix in my 1968 edition of the USNI Heavy Weather Guide, “for those who wish the vicarious experience of weathering one of those awesome storms.”



I don’t think there totally is such a thing. Davidson may have been a good mariner. However We all have gaps in our knowledge, most we are not aware of. I still run across things I should have known years ago.

That’s why it was a mistake for TOTE to have as the only operational expertise with the captains.


As an aside, it’s public domain and can be read/downloaded here:



Figure 59. Ventilation supply trunk (right) and aft exhaust trunk (left) in hold 3, with flooding of
hold to 20 percent (0.7 permeability) and heel angle of 15 °. (Adapted from figure 6-18 in
MSC 2017)

This is the situation when the C/M went on deck to close the scuttle and investigate.


Proper lashing and tightening of lashings is a crucial factor. A weak point under wet circumstances is the friction or rather the lack of friction between especially truck tires and the deck. A flip in the list as took place could break loose such lashings. A sudden shift from starboard to port was in my opinion risky as it could shift weights, could in fact prove to be fatal and initiate an uncontrollable capsize.


are the cross sections shown accurate for the EL FARO’s last voyage or just diagrammatic? were there not heavy trailers in the lower hold but only automobiles? if that is the case it is no wonder these ships would leave Jax with the barest minimum KG margin!


I think it’s accurate. The way the decks were numbered is they called the deck with containers deck # 1, the freeboard deck was deck #2.

In this photo there is a “4 D” painted on the bulkhead which I assume means 4 deck, also notice the way shape of the skin, only on 4 deck does it curve like that.

My guess is they do it that way to speed up load/discharge. It would slow things down to have to get trailers down there. The headroom clearance is there so presumably they can stow trailers there if required.


Yeah, that was a good read. I like the part where they limp into port.