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


Just my theory, but I think Davidson was so pissed off at Tote management that he couldn’t see straight.

He also was like the Titantic captain, he thought his ship was nearly invincible.

Add to that, EL Junkie had just sailed right through the Hurricane. That created an expectation for him to do the same.

An unhappy ship. An old ship. An unhappy management. A dying industry with no other employment options. A terrible combination.


People under stress get tunnel vision.


but to lose ALL perspective entirely? to the point where one cannot see ANY danger? HOW?


I don’t think it was just one thing but many small things.

Did the captain understand the difference between a tropical cyclone and an extratropical cyclone?

From the VDR transcript both the captain and mate seemed to expect max about 40 kts. Both expressed surprise when they got the bridge.

The mate and captain did not appear to take into account possible forecast errors.

Captain had high confidence in his abilities and dismissive of the concerns of the mates,

Another thing is the illusion created by using the BVS on the computer. When the weather is plotted by hand and an eye kept on the weather things seem much less certain then on the computer screen, just like the mates using AIS for collision avoidance without understanding the limitations and not seeking other sources of information.

A display like this will fool you, the “feel” you get by hand plotting is different.

Mario called it the illusion of control. I spend a lot of time clicking through the 6 hour forecasts, watching the lows move as the little ship icon advances along the track. Far different then reading the Sat-C text etc.


From the NTSB final report.


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determines that the probable cause of the sinking of El Faro and the subsequent loss of life was the captain’s insufficient action to avoid Hurricane Joaquin, his failure to use the most current weather information, and his late decision to muster the crew. Contributing to the sinking was ineffective bridge resource management on board El Faro, which included the captain’s failure to adequately consider officers’ suggestions. Also contributing to the sinking was the inadequacy of both TOTE’s oversight and its safety management system. Further contributing factors to the loss of El Faro were flooding in a cargo hold from an undetected open watertight scuttle and damaged seawater piping; loss of propulsion due to low lube oil pressure to the main engine resulting from a sustained list; and subsequent downflooding through unsecured ventilation closures to the cargo holds. Also contributing to the loss of the vessel was the lack of an approved damage control plan that would have assisted the crew in recognizing the severity of the vessel’s condition and in responding to the emergency. Contributing to the loss of life was the lack of appropriate survival craft for the conditions.


In a 27 page letter Action News Jax has obtained, the attorney for the captain’s widow, Bill Bennett, urges the commandant of the Coast Guard to make corrections to the Marine Board Report.

Bill Bennett wrote amongst other things:

The El Faro was not lost because of one single event. She certainly was not lost because she transited near a hurricane. She was lost because of a confluence of several events, including water on deck entering a scuttle which was inadvertently left open,” wrote Bennett.

Oh, well, I suppose a lawyer for his money’s worth should make a statement like that.


Perhaps he thinks he can convince a jury of landlubbers that it’s commonplace for vessels to sink in calm waters because of scuttles left open.


In Dutch there is a saying for this: “Fairy tales of Mother Goose”


In the US, there is the question, what is the difference between a Fairy Tale and a Sea Story?


A sea story begins with the words “This is no shit.” :wink:


A fairytale begins : “Once upon a time . . .”

A sea story begins: “This AIN’T no shit . . .”


I was fairly literate for an enlisted man.

Actually, one of the wisest things I ever did was lose about twenty thousand words from my vocabulary the day I took the oath. I already knew most of the other dozen or two… :slight_smile:


The Dutch are a polite lot as is shown. In the States they would probably say: “That is a just lot of bull sh*t SIR”.


Retired MMA Professor James Murphy said important lessons can be learned from tragedies like this.

“We can take what we know about what happened and adapt our training, our teaching,” he said.

For one thing, he said the maritime industry has to do a better job with teaching how a damaged hull affects a ship’s stability in rough seas—what he called damaged stability.

“When you get flooding—a hull breach—what happens then? How will the ship react? We don’t do a good enough job with that.”

He said the industry needs to also boost its efforts on meteorological education.

“We need to do more with how hurricanes form; how they act; how they move; and how we should maneuver,” he said.

He said extra emphasis must be placed on the importance of constant situational awareness.

“Because when things are good at sea, they’re good. But when they go to hell, they go to hell in a handbasket. You need to be ready. You need to be thinking. You need to act fast.”



I have to wonder if the guy earned a PhD for such unique thinking as that?


I think he’s just an unlimited master that has been teaching at Mass Maritime for about 40 years. I think, he’s the same Murphy that produced the “Murphy Books” and he’s also the co-founder of Lapware.


I agree, these are rather obvious observations and conclusions. One would expect that all this was already part of the present education as basic stuff. If not it is a little bit late to start with it now,


Since the academy training is for new 3rd Mates, and the academies teach to what is on the USCG 3rd Mate exams, it should be no surprise that damage stability and advanced meteorology are not taught. Those are management level topics that are not on the 3rd Mate exam.

Should the academies focus on practical and necessary seagoing skills, and less on the exams? Should there be less focus on humanities and political correctness?

American academies do not teach management level programs, or have any interest in doing so, except for some STCW short courses. The only interest the academies have in teaching these STCW short courses is raising fast cash from overpriced courses.

As I understand it, The UK academies teach maritime skills in three month long Chief Mate and master upgrade programs. I’ve never heard of a US academy offering such a program.


4.4. Training and competence requirements relating to meteorology
4.4.1. The STCW Code, Table A-II/2 sets out the “Knowledge, understanding
and proficiency” requirements relating to the competence “Forecast
weather and oceanographic conditions” as follows:

Ability to understand and interpret a synoptic chart and to forecast area weather, taking into account local weather conditions and information received by weather fax.
Knowledge of the characteristics of various weather systems, including tropical revolving storms and avoidance of storm centres and dangerous quadrants
Knowledge of ocean current systems
Ability to calculate tidal conditions
Use all appropriate nautical publications on tides and currents

There are company requirements also:

ISM also requires that the company identify the need for additional training.

6.5 The Company should establish and maintain procedures for identifying any training which may be required in support of the SMS and ensure that such training is provided for all personnel concerned


by which I am supposed to be impressed? our Academy educators by and large are not professionals from within the industry but their own little insular group who wouldn’t be able to find their asses with both hands out in the real maritime world.


So C.Capt, how do you really feel?