TOTE did not have an Operations Department

Hearing 1 Day 2

Witness is Mr. Philip Greene, Rear Admiral, United States Navy, retired.

President of Tote Services Incorporated.

This is his background.

WIT: I am a retired Naval Officer, having spent 32 years on active duty in the surface warfare community commanding ships. I departed the Navy as a 2 star flag officer. Subsequently I served in the Senior Executive Service of the Department of Transportation, as a Superintendent of the United States Merchant Marine Academy and later as the Chair for the National Defense University – Department of Transportation Chair for the National Defense University before joining Tote in the fall of

MBI asks who is in charge of operations?

Mr. Fawcett: So as President of Tote Services who do you rely on to oversee the marine operations of the El Faro and the El Yunque

WIT: Well the way our portfolio is allocated within the company, are by, generally by a third party client. In the case of the Tote Maritime fleet which includes Tote Maritime Puerto Rico and Tote Maritime Alaska that’s overseen by the Vice President for Marine Operations Commercial Tote Maritime.

The VP of Marine Operations is a Port Engineer and he is in charge of the engineering side.

MBI asks if he the Navy provides operational oversight - Green says it’s an apples and oranges comparison.

Mr. Fawcett: In your naval role have you provided oversight of vessel operations?

WIT: I have.

Mr. Fawcett: And would you characterize that as direct oversight?

WIT: Yes.

Mr. Fawcett: And what would that ----

WIT: Direct in the sense of the operational and mission emphasis for vessels.

Mr. Fawcett: So in the naval world there is direct oversight of the actual naval operations of the vessels?

WIT: I think in making an analogy between naval operations and commercial operations we’re talking apples and oranges. And they’re two completely entities with completely different mission sets and the analogies between the two are, you know in my view different.

It was very obvious the “Ops Dept” was non existent when everyone was asked if they realized their ship was near a hurricane and they all said no. It also seems like designating someone as the “Ops Dept” was just so they could check a box on their ISM audits. What I got out of the testimony was they had an SMS but doesn’t sound like they used it effectively. We all shake our heads at the ludicrous amount of forms we have to fill out in a day but it adds that layer of accountability.

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Seems that a company that operates ships would have expertise in ship operations.

Here the MBI asks again - who was in charge of operations

Mr. Fawcett: Shifting focus to nautical operations, not on the ships, I’m talking about shore side personnel within the Tote organization, where would I find the expertise in nautical operations?

WIT: Well I will have to go back to the most preeminent expertise for nautical anything resides in those unlimited tonnage licensed deck officers aboard our ships. In the case of El Faro a highly qualified experienced Master Mariner, a Chief Mate who had an unlimited tonnage Master’s license and on down the line. The most eminently qualified individuals for vessel nautical activity are those mariners on board the ship.

Mr. Fawcett: But that’s not the question I asked. What I’m looking for is shore side support for maritime operations in the nautical operations department. Who could the ship call on ashore for assistance with nautical issues if they needed support?

WIT: I can’t think of any example, at least in my time where a Master has had to call back to the home base and ask a question about nautical proficiency. He is the preeminent expert defacto.

Who would the master call at the company if nobody there knows anything?

The Master’s job is to tell the company what he has done, not to ask them what to do.

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Hard to tell if by design or happenstance but Tote Services organization in lacking this typical arrangement may have taken the position that since they were forced to have a DPA and placed that responsibility with the Manager of Safety and Operations they could not see the point in also having a traditional port captain / ops/vessel manager.

By the way the DPA even with the title Manager of Safety and Operations, himself describes his job as “My responsibility is to oversee the safety, environmental and the security and regulatory issues of the company.” So it is easy to understand the confusion of the board. Just who would the captain ask about deck stuff? Hey if the testimony made it clear this was a functional arrangement so be it. But read through some of this testimony and see if it does not sound a wee bit dysfunctional.

Not a direct cause of the incident by any means but there was no safety valve for possibly poor decisions made shipboard nor apparently detailed guidance on approach to dealing with tropical storms. Sometimes an email sent by a DPA / Manager of Safety… meant it was just a general query about what his plans were and other times it requested to be informed of his preparations. But since he was not the Captains boss compliance seemed optional and decisions did not seem to be critically reviewed or noted.

Most of the people in the hearings are under a line in the org chart with “commercial” added to it. It seems they have a another group that provided ship management to ships under “government” contracts. There is some reference to there being a Port Captain in that group because it was required by contract.

So unless this operating unit of Tote just evolved this way, they seem to have consciously decided they did not need that capability for these ships. The point of effective management over the Captains is not to micro manage their daily life aboard. It seems too easy for the various managers (and even the one captain interviewed) to discount the value of a shoreside presence with those skills and ability to monitor ship ops as a direct and formally assigned duty. The picture painted so far is a catch as catch can approach. They make statements like the captains can ask for help whenever they wanted. When managers are asked who would they ask they said depends on what the captains are asking about. Not that unusual an answer on the surface but when pushed there is a lack of clarity and consistency.

One question might be did Tote Services apply the concept of risk assessment to their own organization structure. What could go wrong if we do not provide a single point of contact for the captain?

Well, captains already get told what to do. Schedule, crewing, cargo is all determined by someone ashore .It’s not a matter of being told what to do. It’s a matter of lack of expertise ashore by the people who tell the captain what to do… Better if someone in the office understands what is being required of ships and crews…

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Nothing in my statement denied the Masters’ obligation to carry out the instructions of the owners or charterers. This should not require the Master to “…ask them what to do”. On occasion the Master may receive orders that are vague or contradictory in which a request for clarification may be appropriate. And there are times that a Master may be obligated to instruct the owners or charterers that their instructions are unsound, unsafe or illegal (sometimes all three) and cannot be complied with as instructed. As you well know, while it might be nice to have an experienced person in the office with whom you can commiserate in a difficult situation, if as a ship’s Master you are not comfortable with proceeding using your own experience and judgement then you are in the wrong job

I assume that when you say “you” you’re not referring to me but to mariners in general.

In the case of the El Faro Capt Davison was evidently very comfortable with proceeding into the eyewall of a cat 3 tropical cyclone on an old, heavily loaded ship. When he came up to the bridge at around 0400 hrs on the 1st he said he’d been sleeping like a baby. Be hard to get more comfortable than that.

Using comfort level for tropical cyclone avoidance is the wrong approach.

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WIT: I am a retired Naval Officer, having spent 32 years on active duty in the surface warfare community commanding ships. I departed the Navy as a 2 star flag officer. Subsequently I served in the Senior Executive Service of the Department of Transportation, as a Superintendent of the United States Merchant Marine Academy and later as the Chair for the National Defense University – Department of Transportation Chair for the National Defense University before joining Tote in the fall of

Hmm so well versed in the ways of commercial shipping then… or not as the case maybe!

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Here the Coast Guard is trying to ask how the masters are supervised at TOTE

Mr. Kucharski: Thank you. Continuing on that, the question was asked earlier of you about oversight of the nautical operations…

just need to be clear when we asked you the question on nautical operations and who is their oversight and you said you rely on the expertise of your excellent mariners. But is there no oversight of nautical operations? Is there any supervision by a shore side personnel, of those decisions?

WIT: No. The responsibility for, in a sense that you’re referring to it, where the imminent level of expertise, accountability and authority rests is for nautical expertise and operations of that vessel is with the Master. With respect to supervision and so forth here, we have Port Engineers that are remotely located here that – in various locations around the country that report to a Director of Ship Management. You know there’s all kinds of levels of supervision in terms of support for readiness of the vessels. But that would be where my assessment of this discussion on the loose notion of how operations is referred to.

Mr. Kucharski: Are the Master’s decisions on board the vessel, are any of the personnel, are they reviewable?

WIT: The Master is in supreme control of that asset and has overriding authority for the safety of that vessel and its crew. So that is a very important element of the authorities that are vested in the Master of that ship.

Mr. Kucharski: I don’t know if I got an answer to the question. Are the decisions reviewable of the Master’s decisions?

WIT: What do you mean by reviewable?

If the ships are using too little margins on tropical cyclones is anyone in the office going to have a look at that?

The answer is no, but it made to sound as if it’s illegal for the company to keep an eye on what the masters are doing

Mr. Kucharski: You have a review – any review process you have, near misses, when you get misses at safety meetings, they come in ----

WIT: We’re talking about nautical, we were talking about nautical topical area moment ago. As opposed to a near miss which is completely different item that’s submitted from the ship as a substantive and positive element of improving safety consistent with our safety management system.

Mr. Kucharski: So would nautical not be considered in the safety management system or in a near miss reporting system?

WIT: I would view that the authority for expertise, and you were referring to the Master, that the Master has the overriding authority for the safety of his ship, for the crew. And he is the ultimate decision on board that vessel. And it’s just not my opinion, Captain. I mean this is the opinion that’s, I want to be clear about that. This isn’t Phil Greene’s opinion, this is the opinion of our long standing international treaties, regulations, protocols, regulations that are laid out as a result of those long standing treaties, protocols and laws. So that’s where I derive my view from, not just solely on my own thought.

MBI asks if they are inside the SMS to see if company polices are followed. - Again the answer is no.

Mr. Kucharski: Thank you for that. The safety management system you have audits, you make sure that the vessel crew including the Master complied with the company polices, is that correct?

WIT: Well the safety management system provides the guidance and frame work that the Master is to implement.

Mr. Kucharski: Okay. So that is not a form of making sure that they are - or oversight to make sure that they’re doing what’s in the safety management system including heavy weather preparations?

WIT: Say that again.

Mr. Kucharski: So was that not a form of oversight, the safety management system —

WIT: I think the safety management system as we’ve all discussed is an element of our safety, quality, environmental program. It’s a frame work that’s established by ISM.> It provides guidance and for the Master to implement across the fleet. Not just in one ship.

This is from Hearing 1 day 2 - Page 63- Philip H. Greene - President of Tote Services Incorporated.

The MBI is trying to determine who at TOTE provides oversight of marine operations. It seems that Green is claiming that the company cannot provide routing oversight because it contravenes master’s overriding authority.

CAPT Neubauer: If for any reason Tote Services had to intervene against a Master’s decision, who would have the authority and who is charged to do that? And this could range from anything from the Master doesn’t have enough information or even like a misconduct situation. How would that be handled by that company

WIT: Well I think we’re, again with all due respect we’re asking now about a question about an administrative matter relating to a discipline scenario versus a voyage plan which the, again the long standing protocols, laws and treaties and the regulations that we’re governed by vest that responsibility solely in the Master of the vessel

This is a nonsense argument.

In some cases minimum under keel clearances (UKC) are required in a Safety Management System (SMS). Master’s overriding authority allows the master to violate these requirements if required to keep the ship safe.

How would requiring masters to use a safe route undermine master’s overriding authority? If for example masters were required by the company to avoid tropical cyclones(TCs) master’s overriding authority would still allow the master to encounter a TC if that was the safer choice.

Green’s argument makes no sense.

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I am trying to understand how you could construe my saying that a ship’s Master should be comfortable using their own experience and judgement as an endorsement of “Using comfort level for tropical cyclone avoidance”.

Here’s what you said.

if as a ship’s Master you are not comfortable with proceeding using your own experience and judgement then you are in the wrong job

I disagree with this, In my standing / night orders I don’t let third mate determine CPAs based on their comfort levels. I tell them if they can’t maintain a CPA of x miles to call me.I don’t care how they feel about passing closer. In fact mariners with less experience are often the ones with more confidence. They don’t know what they don’t know.

The captain of the El Faro evidently felt comfortable planning to pass inside the 50 kt wind fields of of a tropical cyclone. Apparently his experience in Alaskan waters made him feel comfortable being close to a TC. Mid-latitude storms, the type seen in Alaskan waters are not the same as tropical storms. Maybe he didn’t know that and that’s why he felt comfortable proceeding.

I"ve been in plenty of heavy weather, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable. The reason I avoid heavy weather (as much as practical) is because I know the additional risk is unnecessary, not because of the way it makes me feel.


The MBI (Marine Board of Investigation) wants to determine who shoreside at TOTE has operation expertise. The way they hope to learn this is by asking a TOTE captain who ashore would he ask if he had a ship operation type question.

That doesn’t mean that the function of an operation department is to wait passively to answer navigation or weather type questions, it’s just a simple way to try and get the answer to the question the MBI is looking for.

Obviously it’d be a bad idea to have a captain that had to contact the office to solve routine seamanship problems. That’s not the way an effective ops department would operate.