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    It’s another step toward boosting safety at sea, as a result of the sinking of Jacksonville-based cargo ship El Faro, which killed 33 people in 2015. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has unanimously passed what they’re calling the Maritime Safety Act of 2018. Lawmakers say they worked in conjunction with the Coast Guard, maritime unions, the NTSB, El Faro’s surveyor the American Bureau of Shipping, and El Faro’s owner TOTE Maritime in coming up with the package of changes, which now heads to the full House.  “The loss of this US-flagged cargo vessel, its 33-member crew ranks as one of the worst maritime disasters in US history,” said Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who introduced the legislation.  A Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation was convened to investigate the sinking, which happened when the ship encountered Hurricane Joaquin, while heavily loaded and transiting from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico. The Board held three two-week public hearing sessions in Jacksonville, resulting in recommendations that were issued two years after the vessel sank. The Coast Guard Commandant then reviewed that report and issued his Final Action Memo last December, outlining changes the Coast Guard could control, as well as ones that required collaboration from other parties.  FULL COVERAGE: The sinking of El Faro This bill largely reflects what was outlined in the FAM, including steps the Coast Guard says they’re already taking.  One of the notable differences from what is directly included in the FAM- but well in line with what was made clear during the MBI testimony- is an order in the bill that the Coast Guard Commandant determine the time and funding it would take to triple the current size of the traveling inspector staff. Testimony during the MBI hearing showed inspectors were becoming increasingly reliant on third-party surveyors, like the American Bureau of Shipping, and weren’t supervising as many inspections, in part because of diminishing resources and in part because of holes in communication between the parties. This was also leading to a drop off in knowledge and experience among the Coast Guard inspectors. The bill further addresses this by instructing the Coast Guard to boost training at many levels, including for prospective sector commanders and inspectors. The training would also be required to be available to third party surveyors that do work under the Coast Guard’s Alternate Compliance Program, according to the bill.  ACP is something that was heavily reviewed by the MBI- it’s a program that allows alternate class societies like ABS to perform work on behalf of the Coast Guard, in order to avoid duplication of work and maximize available resources. This bill would establish advanced training on oversight of these third parties, which some of the lawmakers involved say is a step in the right direction, although maybe not the full solution.  “I have concerns about the conflicts with these certification societies. You’re out there in the free market, you want to sell your services, I guess maybe you don’t want to be too tough on people, but you know, that’s not the way this should work. So, we need more oversight of those certification authorities, maybe more, maybe some liability or fiscal responsibility in the future, when it’s noted that they passed a ship that shouldn’t have been passed for numerous reasons,” said ranking Committee member Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) during a meeting this week when the bill was passed.  GALLERY: Tributes to the El Faro crew ACP also features what is called the Supplement, which addresses any area of conflict between guidelines among the different parties, or anything that is left out. Testimony showed the Coast Guard is lagging substantially in keeping various Supplements up to date, with each alternate class society having overlaps which need to be addressed. While the MBI had recommended eliminating the use of supplements outright, the FAM ordered working with the alternate class societies to create one unified Supplement. That is the option favored in this legislation.  DeFazio was among those saying this is positive movement, but far from the end of their work. Committee member Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) noted that with the ask for more work, must come more resources.  “The Coast Guard is, in fact, doing less with less. According to the Marine Board of Investigation report, we now know that the Coast Guard’s internal marine safety and inspection functions was one of those missions that did less with less,” he said.  Funding could dictate some of the equipment changes outlined in the bill. Through this legislation, the Committee would be requiring all personnel on these vessels be outfitted with distress signaling that has location technology. Search and rescue operations following the sinking of El Faro were initially hampered by weather, but even after the skies cleared, crews had difficulty locating any possible survivors in the water.  There was one set of remains located by search and rescue crews, but they did not immediately recover it, because that would have forced them to return to land immediately- and they had just received a report of a possible waiving survival suit, so they needed to search for that possible survivor. While the crew put a locator beacon on the remains, it did not work, and they were not able to locate the remains again. Subject to appropriations, the bill is requiring the Coast Guard Commandant to work on an effective beacon for items that are not able to be immediately retrieved, although the FAM indicated the beacons that were in use at that time have already been phased out for more effective ones.  “If you’re floating in the ocean in 2018, you can find your iPhone, but we can’t find you. We’re gunna change that,” Hunter said.  The weather was a factor leading up to the sinking as well, with testimony showing that the Captain was working off some outdated weather information, because of a one-time glitch in one of the ship’s on-board systems leading to a duplicated storm track being used without the Captain and crew’s knowledge. Even the other weather packages through this system- the Bon Voyage System- featured data that was hours old, because of the amount of processing and transposing that was done in order to get it to show in map form with overlays. This bill urges negotiations to create rules requiring ships receive “synoptic and graphical chart weather forecasts” in a timely manner.   “The importance of timely weather forecasts sounds simple, but the El Faro crew was making decisions based on forecasts that were many hours old, despite significant changes in the forecasted storm trajectory,” Hunter said.  The FAM found the primary cause of El Faro’s sinking to be the Captain’s decision to navigate too close to the path of Hurricane Joaquin, although there were contributing factors as well. The FAM says some blame lies on ABS’s failure to uncover and fix longstanding deficiencies, the Coast Guard’s failure to properly oversee inspections, and TOTE Services’ ineffective safety management system.  AUDIO: El Faro’s Captain calls in “marine emergency” The Committee is further seeking to boost transparency, through requiring information on vessel compliance to be documented and available publicly. They also want to require an audit of the effectiveness of safety management plans, with findings and recommendations presented to lawmakers. That report would then become public as well.  The bill is also looking at requiring companies to keep records of incremental weight changes, in order to track those over time. Those records would be kept both on the vessel and on shore. This reflects some concern that was raised over work that was taking place on El Faro, to convert her to the Alaskan trade. There was testimony at the MBI hearings about possible changes in weight distribution as a result of this conversion work, which was not being documented and considered from a stability perspective. Records retention is another concern, since some documents that could have further assisted the investigation in to the sinking were lost on the vessel when it went down.  El Faro had previously undergone a work, which investigators determined with hindsight should have been deemed a “major conversion”. That classification would have likely led to the ship being forced in to some more modern safety standards that were in effect in 2005-06 when the work was done. The Commandant ordered a review in the FAM for how the major conversion determination is made and documented, and the Committee now- in this bill- is ordering a similar review and full briefing on the findings.  Some of what is outlined in this bill can be implemented by the Coast Guard, but some would have the Commandant enter in to negotiations with other parties.  First, lawmakers want to require high-water alarm sensors in each cargo hold, with both audible and visual alarms located on the bridge. This reflects findings about the series of flooding which is believed to have taken place on the vessel. In conjunction with the flooding, lawmakers are ordering a review of whether current regulations and rules are effective in addressing openings and closures on vessels, and the impact those have in stability standards. The MBI believes water for in to a cargo area of El Faro through an open scuttle that should have been closed. Investigators think cargo was then able to break loose because of the flooding, potentially damaging the fire system on board and leading to more flooding. Water is also believed to have entered through open vents, which served a dual purpose.  Following the initial flooding and resulting list, investigators believe the Captain overcorrected with ballast and other measures, leading to a substantial list on the other side. From there, the lube oil system lost suction, leading to a loss of propulsion as the hurricane bared down.  Another area that would have to be negotiated is requiring all Voyage Data Recorders- or black boxes- to have an emergency position indicating radio beacon, and to be installed in a “float-free” arrangement, meaning they would break loose from the vessel as the ship sank. El Faro’s VDR went down with the ship, and it took two missions to locate it and a third to recover it, which in the end provided investigators with valuable information about what happened in the final moments on board.  FULL DETAILS: El Faro’s VDR captures final moments on board What the VDR captures is another area of change. Under this bill, lawmakers would task the Commandant to do a cost-benefit analysis on requiring VDRs capture internal ship telephone conversations from both sides, not only from the bridge. While the investigators were able to recover more than a day’s worth of audio from the bridge El Faro that had been recorded on the VDR, that audio was only what could be heard from the bridge, so it’s unclear what engineers and other parties were saying in conversations with the Captain and the crew who were on watch.  Additionally, following on a recommendation from the FAM, the bill would require the Coast Guard to have “full and timely” access to the VDR data and audio. The NTSB led the missions to locate and recover the VDR, and then held custody of the device. While we have been told the NTSB and MBI worked in close cooperating throughout the fact-finding process, this would codify the Coast Guard’s access to the data.  “The loss of life and the exhaustive investigation that revealed significant safety deficiencies in both the vessels and in those individuals charged in their safe operation should be motivation enough for us to enact this purposeful reforms,” says Garamendi.  While the NTSB and MBI collaborated through much of the investigation, including the NTSB sitting in and participating in the MBI’s public hearings, both agencies worked independently on their final reports and recommendations. The NTSB issued its own report late last year, and has since been lobbying for change.  While this bill now heads to the full House, there is no companion in the Senate at this time. Florida Senator Bill Nelson’s office tells us they’re working on a bill that is even more wide reaching, which deals with NTSB recommendations as well. He intends to introduce that soon, according to his office.
  • The Coast Guard continues to find ships sailing in substandard conditions, as part of its concentrated inspection effort in the aftermath of the sinking of Jacksonville cargo ship El Faro. 33 people died when El Faro sank in Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015. The tragedy prompted two federal investigations, that have now resulted in dozens of recommendations on how to improve safety at sea. GALLERY: Tributes to the crew of El Faro Coast Guard Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy Rear Admiral John Nadeau- who’s leading the Coast Guard’s efforts following a Marine Board of Investigation probe and directives from the Commandant- testified in front of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation today, along with NTSB Board Member Earl Weener. It’s one of the first times the sinking has come in front of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and Representatives made it clear they expect follow-up and results.  “This was totally preventable,” says Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who’s the ranking member on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, but was sitting in on the Subcommittee hearing.  Today’s questioning largely focused on the Alternate Compliance Program. This is a special inspection program used by some commercial vessels that allows Alternate Class Societies, like the American Bureau of Shipping, to perform surveys and related work on behalf of the Coast Guard. The intention is to eliminate redundancies because of overlap between Coast Guard and ACS surveys, while also maximizing resources.  The Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation’s probe of the El Faro sinking found many problems with ACP’s current application though, including that issues on ships were not being caught, some ACS surveyors were working without a substantial amount of ship-specific training, the Coast Guard was lacking oversight, and communication between involved parties was not always to the level it needed to be, among other things.  “There are companies who do a good job, and there are other companies- if you pay them- they will certify your rust bucket as seaworthy. Now, that’s just not right,” DeFazio says.  FULL COVERAGE:The sinking of El Faro Concentrated Coast Guard inspections of high-risk ACP vessels started during the MBI investigation, and led to some vessels- including El Faro’s sister ship El Yunque- being scrapped because of substandard conditions. Nadeau says they’ve continued concentrated inspections, and they’ve continued finding problems.  'To determine if these issues revealed in the El Faro investigation are pervasive across the fleet, I directed a team of senior marine inspectors to closely examine more ships currently enrolled in the Alternate Compliance Program, or ACP. We have found additional evidence of breakdowns in the safety framework, and our findings confirm concerns raised in the investigation about the material condition of several other US-flagged vessels,” Nadeau says.  Nadeau says they’re committed to making changes, but DeFazio questioned if he has the resources he needs.  “There’s real questions about the Coast Guard- whether their budget is adequate to carry out this very important function. I think it’s not. I think we’ve spread them too thin, and they are relying far too much on Classification Societies without any substantial oversight,” he says.  Nadeau says they could always do more with more resources, but the central issue is training. He says they need to get the right information on board so they can put the right policies and procedures in place, and that requires a small group of highly trained marine inspectors focused on this issue.  “The Coast Guard must- and will- restore the safety framework with robust and thorough oversight and accountability,” he says.  Subcommittee Ranking Member Representative John Garamendi (D-CA) questioned how we got here, noting that there were changes- and some recommendations that weren’t acted on- in the aftermath of the sinking of the Marine Electric decades ago.  “Bottom line is, why didn’t we get it right in the last 35 years,” Garamendi asked.  Nadeau believes that, over time, they’ve been pushed to rely more and more on ACSs to do more work.  “Along the way, I think we’ve lost a little bit of our focus, and we’re doubling down now to get that back,” Nadeau says.  GALLERY: El Faro’s wreckage Both the MBI and the NTSB conducted investigations following the sinking. The MBI came out with recommendations, and the Commandant has since issued his directives- ordering changes within what the Coast Guard can control and planning for how to change areas that require a partnership with other players in the maritime industry and government branches. The NTSB issued dozens of recommendations- which will be formalized in a report out in the next couple of weeks- and will lobby various parties to try to achieve their desired changes. The Subcommittee asked for more information to track the progress and status of the recommendations from both reports, as well as details on the ongoing inspections the Coast Guard is conducting.  Subcommittee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) cautioned that lawmakers have to make sure they’re finding fault and putting responsibilities on the appropriate parties. He noted that both bodies found fault with El Faro’s Captain, and his decision to sail toward Hurricane Joaquin.  “It looks like this was poor decision making that exacerbated physical problems with the ship,” Hunter says.  Nadeau says training, certification, and related areas were all examined, and both investigations found room for improvement. They continued to expand the scope of the investigation as they uncovered information that warranted it.  “This tragedy shined a spotlight on failures in the safety framework,” Nadeau says.  IN DEPTH: El Faro’s black box captures final moments ahead of the sinking He says there is room for improvement across the board- from the Coast Guard to Alternate Class Societies to the ship owners- but they’re ready and able to tackle the work.  “At the end of the day, this is about the lives of the men and women who go to sea in support of the nation’s economic prosperity, in support of our military readiness, and in support of our national security,” he says.  Nadeau says they’re dedicated to honoring those mariners, through achieving real and lasting change.
  • More than two years after the Jacksonville cargo ship El Faro sank in Hurricane Joaquin, killing all 33 people on board, the Coast Guard Commandant has released his orders on what should and will change to prevent this type of tragedy from happening again. This past October, the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation that probed the sinking released its Report of Investigation, detailing dozens of recommendations they compiled through their two year investigation, which included holding three two-week hearing sessions in Jacksonville. Since then, the Commandant has been reviewing the ROI, and he has now issued a Final Action Memo. That FAM details what the Commandant concurs with, what he will order, and what he disputes from the MBI’s findings. “The loss of El Faro and its crew members was tragic and preventable. The Coast Guard will take appropriate action on all that we have learned from this investigation,” says Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft.  FULL COVERAGE:  The sinking of El Faro Zukunft approved the findings of fact, analysis, and conclusions detailed in the ROI.  It found the primary cause of the sinking was the decision to navigate the ship too close to the path of Hurricane Joaquin, although the Captain’s attorney has disputed this conclusion. Contributing factors to the sinking outlined in the FAM include the operating company, TOTE Services, having an ineffective safety management system; the ship’s surveyor, the American Bureau of Shipping, failing to uncover and resolve longstanding deficiencies; and the Coast Guard itself failing to adequately oversee third party inspections, including not sustaining the policy framework and proficiency. “This casualty did not occur due to a lack of standards or requirements; rather it was the result of poor seamanship compounded by failure of the safety framework that should have triggered a series of corrective actions that likely would have prevented it,” the FAM says. Coast Guard Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy Rear Admiral John Nadeau will lead the efforts in response to the Commandant’s directives- with some of the orders falling under the purview of the Coast Guard and able to be implemented in themselves, but others requiring organized partnerships and even international cooperation. “The Coast Guard takes the implementation of the safety recommendations in the Commandant’s Final Action Memo very seriously and is committed to providing sustainable policy, oversight, and accountability both internally and externally,” Nadeau says. “This is a call to action for the entire maritime community. TOTE, ABS, and the Coast Guard must learn and more with a sense of urgency. This tragic story points to the need for a strong and enduring commitment at all elements of the safety framework,” the FAM says. This is separate from the NTSB’s investigation, which recently concluded with the issuance of dozens of safety recommendations. The NTSB can only issue and lobby for the recommendations, but cannot order actual change. Monitoring and alarms The Commandant concurs with the MBI recommendation to require high water audio and visual alarms on new and existing multi-hold cargo ships. To achieve this, they will pursue domestic regulation and work with the International Maritime Organization on expanding the Safety of Life at Sea regulation. The MBI recommended watertight closures have open/close indicators visible on the bridge. The FAM says existing regulations require that for most such fixtures, but there is no defined list of “watertight” openings for vessels built before 1992. As such, the Coast Guard is recommending companies identify those openings. An area where the Commandant says the Coast Guard doesn’t object- but will not necessarily require- is the recommendation to have closed circuit television cameras installed in unmanned spaces, allowing monitoring from the bridge. The Commandant says high water alarms as recommended and existing fire detection requirements give sufficient early warning. The focus on monitoring and alarm systems comes because of the sequence of flooding that’s believed to have transpired on El Faro. Water is believed to have gotten in to a cargo area through an open scuttle- which should have been closed. From there, investigators believe cargo may have been able to break loose on the now-wet deck, and may have hit a fire system on board, leading to more flooding. Water also is believed to have gotten on board through vents that were open- with conflicting guidance for the crew on whether those vent openings should have been open as vents are required, or closed as watertight and weathertight openings. With the vent openings, the Commandant agrees that dual purpose closures can be confusing and impractical, but he’s calling on the company to ensure crew is aware of those conflicts. While the FAM doesn’t conclude whether the fire pump piping was damaged by cargo in this case, the Coast Guard will consider requiring more protection for these types of “vital systems”. AUDIO: El Faro’s Captain describes ‘marine emergency’ in final shore side communication The flooding and significant list, followed by an overcorrection that resulted in a more substantial list to the other side, ultimately is believed to have led to a loss of suction in the lube oil system, which led to a loss of propulsion. The MBI raised concerns about the operating limitations of these systems- specifically that suction was lost at that list on that specific side of the ship. The Commandant says the Coast Guard will publish a “Marine Safety Alert” to let maritime operators know about the MBI’s findings about the lube oil sump, but added that there is no “compelling evidence” to suggest testing and design standards need to be revised. The Commandant did not concur with a recommendation which would have required vessels keep electronic records for areas like bridge and engine room logs, and periodically transmit those logs to the shore during their voyage. Through the hearing process, MBI investigators noted that they didn’t have some information- including crew work/rest hours- because the ship’s logs were lost with the vessel. The MBI also sought to require a company have onboard and shore side tracking for incremental weight changes. This recommendation largely comes from the MBI’s findings that work was being done on El Faro to convert her to the Alaskan trade, but that work was not being factored in to ship calculations. The FAM says the preferred way to track incremental weight changes is a deadweight survey, and they will recommend that is done when a ship undergoes a stability test, although the Commandant notes that proposal has been put forward twice before, without success. Safety equipment and Search and Rescue The NTSB called on new regulations to require enclosed lifeboats on all vessels in their recommendations. The MBI put forward a similar call, wanting the Commandant to work toward eliminating open top gravity launched lifeboats for US ships. The FAM says the Commandant supports phasing out open lifeboats and supports proposals to achieve that, but stops short of saying he will work to require it for existing vessels. On existing vessels with open lifeboats, the Coast Guard is initiating a “concentrated inspection campaign” to make sure the lifeboats are in “serviceable condition”. There’s no evidence El Faro’s lifeboats ever launched, and investigators largely don’t believe the crew would have been able to survive in the conditions they faced, but they believe the best chance the crew could have had would have been in enclosed lifeboats. El Faro’s lifeboat systems also had work done just ahead of her final departure, and testimony during the hearing showed that work wasn’t properly surveyed. The MBI recommended that Voyage Data Recorders- or the ship’s black box- be installed in a “float-free” arrangement, which would allow it to break free of the wreckage at the time of a sinking. The MBI further recommends the VDR have an EPIRB, or locating beacon. It took two missions to locate El Faro’s VDR and a third to recover it from the ocean floor, where it was still affixed to the wreckage. DETAILS: El Faro’s Voyage Data Recorder captures audio ahead of sinking The Commandant acknowledged that, while the requirement for a ship to have a VDR was retroactive, guidelines like having a float-free arrangement were neither mandatory nor retroactive. The Commandant says he will propose to the International Maritime Organization that new VDR installations be required to be float-free and have location indicators. There is no mention of any retroactive requirement. The MBI further recommended VDRs capture communications on internal ship telephone systems or other two-way communications. The Commandant says the Coast Guard will propose to IMO that additional data sources be captured by the VDR. Investigators believe having that additional audio captured by the VDR can help paint a more complete picture of what is happening on board. During the MBI’s investigation, it became clear that locating beacons- or Self-Locating Datum Marker Buoys- being used at the time were not effective- the FAM says their success rate was 30%-50%. Since then, those buoys have been taken out of service and replaced with a newer version that the FAM says has a 92% success rate. The MBI recommendation, therefore, that these buoys be evaluated for their reliability has already taken place, although the Coast Guard says it will continue to work with manufacturers about improving functionality and reliability. The Commandant has also identified several products they may acquire to better mark and track floating objects that can’t be immediately recovered during search and rescue. The Coast Guard is also working with organizations developing domestic and international standards on how to integrate distress signaling and location technology in personal lifesaving appliances, like personal floatation devices. Only one set of remains was ever found during search and rescue operations after El Faro’s sinking, but none were recovered. Had the Coast Guard immediately recovered the remains, they would have had to return to land immediately. Instead, they put a beacon with the remains and went to check a report of a possible person in the water waving. They didn’t find anything during that search, and the beacon left with the remains malfunctioned, and the remains could not be located again. Safety management There was testimony during the MBI hearings that it was difficult to truly anonymously report any issues on a ship while at sea, because email capabilities were on the bridge and the Captain gave permission for use of the phone. The Commandant says there are already systems in place that allow for anonymous reporting of safety issues, if all levels are properly implemented. Therefore, he agreed with the intent of a recommendation to develop a shipboard emergency alert system for anonymous reporting, but cited the rules, regulations, and protections already in place. The Coast Guard is going to issue new guidance on development, implementation, and verification of a ship’s Safety Management System, dealing specifically with assessing risk, developing contingency plans for emergency situations, and other areas. The FAM says the company is responsible for developing the SMS, but the Coast Guard is responsible for ensuring compliance with International Safety Management code. In the SMS, the Coast Guard will also specifically look for damage control information that’s required of newer vessels but was not retroactive. The Commandant also concurred with a recommendation to update policies dealing with the approval of stability software. The Commandant is putting the responsibility for the accuracy of any cargo loading and securing software that’s used on the company, to ensure it’s consistent with a ship’s Loading Manual and- if one exists- Cargo Securing Manual. The MBI had also recommended civil penalty action against TOTE Services, El Faro’s operator, over four alleged violations including failure to comply with work/rest standards and a lack of safety training and orientation for the Polish riding gang that was on board. The Commandant concurs with the recommendation. “The investigation has determined that there is evidence that TSI may have committed multiple violations of law or regulation. As such, the alleged violations identified in this recommendation will be referred to the Officer in Charge, Marine Inspections, Jacksonville for investigation and enforcement action, as appropriate,” the FAM says. On the Coast Guard side, the Commandant is directing a review of their policies for making and documenting a “major conversion” determination. When work on a ship is determined to be a “major conversion”, it generally leads to more modern standards- like for safety systems- being put on the vessel. Investigators determined that work done on El Faro around 2005-06 should have been a “major conversion”, even though that initial ruling from the Coast Guard was overturned on appeal. Had that determination been made, it likely would have led to the ship being required to update to new, enclosed lifeboats, among other things. Training and inspections El Faro was surveyed under the Alternate Compliance Program- a special protocol that allows an Alternate Classification Society to perform inspections and other activities on behalf of the Coast Guard. El Faro’s surveyor was the American Bureau of Shipping, which does the lion’s share of the work under this program that is still used on commercial vessels to this day. The MBI recommended the Coast Guard increase oversight and attendance for certifications and audits, after hearing during testimony that there was a lack of oversight and communication among the entities involved. The Commandant says “rather than arbitrarily increasing oversight frequency”, they will determine attendance based on risk and data. El Faro was set to be put on an increased protocol at the time of her sinking, because of a cluster of recent issues. After El Faro’s sinking, the Coast Guard’s advanced inspectors did a concentrated inspection effort on some of the most at-risk vessels, and that resulted in several vessels getting no-sail orders and others being scrapped. The Coast Guard will also establish an auditing process, and begin publishing an annual report on domestic vessel compliance, to include no-sail orders and ACS performance statistics. “The Coast Guard must, and will, establish a risk-based and enduring policy framework that is simpler to execute and enables more robust oversight of delegated functions,” the FAM says. Training for ACS surveyors is another question. The Coast Guard says they will establish a procedure to assess the effectiveness of ACS surveyor training programs and will ensure inadequacies are immediately addressed.  Under ACP, any issues that aren’t addressed in the various rules and regulations governing the entities involved are detailed in what’s called US Supplements.  “As additional ACS’s were authorized to participate in ACP, inconsistency between the supplements of the various ACSs, multiple versions of the same supplement, and the lack of consistent reviews/updates has led to an anthology of supplements that have created more confusion than clarity,” the FAM says. While the MBI recommended eliminating the use of Supplements, The Commandant says the Coast Guard will work with the ACSs to create a single Supplement, focused mainly on critical systems. GALLERY: Tributes to the El Faro crew The Commandant is also ordering the Coast Guard upgrade and enhance its Marine Information for Safety and Law Enforcement system, which documents deficiencies on a vessel. The upgrade will better allow for capturing, tracking, and analyzing important data about deficiencies. The Coast Guard identified two areas in their training for mariners which they will work to improve, as a result of this investigation. Both deal with policy guidance for maritime training schools, with one dealing with management level training in advanced meteorology and the other with operational level training in meteorology.  The Coast Guard is also now expanding and enhancing training and qualifications to ensure Sector Commanders and designees can deal with their responsibilities. The Commandant says the Coast Guard has already acted on another recommendation- creating a steam plant inspection training program. They’re also now establishing an Advanced Journeyman Inspector course to give training on ACP inspections and related areas. Third parties, like ACS surveyors, will be allowed to attend these courses as space allows. Additionally, the Coast Guard is now considering how to monitor global performance of the US fleet and ACSs. While the MBI recommended establishing a Third Party Oversight National Center of Expertise or Third Party Oversight Office at Coast Guard headquarters, the Commandant said only that they’re considering the available options.
  • National Transportation Safety Board investigators are finding fault in the Alternate Compliance Program inspection protocol, the use of open lifeboats, training and oversight by the El Faro’s owner and operator, the Captain’s decision making, and many other areas, among their findings and recommendations following a more than two year investigation in to the sinking of the Jacksonville cargo ship. 33 people died when El Faro took on water, lost propulsion, and ultimately sank in Hurricane Joaquin. FULL COVERAGE:The sinking of El Faro NTSB staff spent all day Tuesday presenting 80 draft findings and 53 draft recommendations, while also fielding questions from Board members. The Board unanimously approved those, although Board Member Bella Dinh-Zarr dissented to an additional finding which said the ship’s officers should have been more forceful in how they communicated deteriorating conditions to the Captain. They’ve also approved a probable cause for the sinking, which heavily cites El Faro’s Master, Captain Michael Davidson for not avoiding Hurricane Joaquin, failing to use the most recent weather information, and more. NTSB Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt made it clear from the outset that the investigative staff took on a “herculean effort”, and the work they’ve produced will make a difference. “This report will be studied by mariners young and old for many years, and I’m confident that this tragedy at sea, and the lessons from this investigation, will help improve safety for future generations of mariners,” he says. NTSB Investigators gave technical and detailed presentations of Factual Reports they’ve produced through the course of this investigation, all of which raised some serious questions. Investigator-In-Charge Brian Young also presented a video describing the sinking. El Faro is one of many commercial vessels that are inspected under the Alternate Compliance Program. This allows the ship’s Alternate Class Society- in this case the American Bureau of Shipping- to conduct inspections on behalf of the Coast Guard, in order to better use resources and avoid redundancies. “Staff believes that the Coast Guard’s Alternate Compliance Program is not effective in ensuring that vessels meet the safety standards required by regulations, and many vessels enrolled in the program are likely to be operating in substandard conditions,” says Young. ABS tells WOKV they’ve worked closely with the NTSB through this process and will continue to do so. “While ABS has not yet had the opportunity to review all the NTSB recommendations, ABS supports all recommendations that effectively enhance safety and will continue working with the U.S. Coast Guard on improvements in the Alternate Compliance Program,” says a statement from ABS. Among the testing that is done, Young is proposing having that go further. With El Faro’s sinking, it’s believed that the severe list led to a loss of suction in the lube oil sump, and ultimately a loss of propulsion. While the ship operated above the minimal required lube oil levels, they were generally below what’s recommended. Investigators believe the crew didn’t know about the vulnerability of the lube oil sump suction with a severe list and were not instructed to alter that to accommodate for expected heavy weather.  NTSB investigators want to increase awareness of design factors like that, while also pushing the testing limitations to determine the minimal operating levels to more extreme conditions, including list. While there was a loss of propulsion, investigators don’t believe the ship lost power. FULL COVERAGE: Detailing the NTSB Group Chairman’s Factual Reports Another factor in the sinking is the amount of water that got on board, contributing to the list. It’s believed water first came in through various openings, but then moved through an open scuttle, although the NTSB has not been able to determine why that scuttle was open. They are now recommending that openings like this be outfitted with remote sensors that would show in a manned area- like on the bridge- whether they are open. The water that got in is believed to have made a large cargo deck more slick, and- when combined with vehicle cargo lashings that did not comply with the company’s lashing manual- investigators believe automobiles were able to break loose, and likely hit the fire main that was improperly guarded, and further precipitated the flow of water through the ship.  At the Captain’s orders, the crew tried to offset the initial list by transferring ballast, but when the Captain then turned the ship to use wind to help offset the list as well, the totality led to an overcorrection. The list shifted to the other side, where it was apparently never remedied. An additional vulnerability that allowed water to get in is the ventilation trunks. NTSB investigators found that the ship’s Certificate of Inspection required those to be open, for the purpose of ventilating cargo holds. They also found, however, that those openings were considered to be watertight or weather tight for the purpose of ship stability- and therefore should have been closed at certain times. Investigators say they don’t believe the crew was aware of this conflict or vulnerability, and water was likely able to get on to the ship through these openings, in the conditions she was facing. A proposed recommendation would outfight all cargo holds with bilge alarms, to more quickly and precisely detect flooding on board. The weather conditions are a main factor not only in the sinking, but the ability of the crew to survive once the call was made to abandon ship. Investigators do not believe El Faro’s lifeboats were ever launched, and in fact on the Voyage Data Recorder, the Captain can be heard calling for the life rafts to be put in the water. “If you’re in such extreme conditions, is there any way out at that point?” asked NTSB Member Christopher Hart. “It was very challenging, but we think the best way to have survived this was to have current equipment, and that would have been enclosed lifeboats, and in particular, the stern-launched lifeboat,” says Jon Furukawa, with the Survival Factors Group. The open-style lifeboats aboard El Faro are not allowed on more modern ship designs, but they were grandfathered in for the ship. NTSB investigators are recommending all of these vessels be required to have enclosed lifeboats, even the ones that would have to be retrofitted. El Faro underwent a “major conversion” in the 1990s that could have meant their lifeboat system would have needed to be upgraded, but the NTSB staff says it appears that was waived because the ship’s lifeboat system itself wasn’t changed in the major modification. The NTSB believes work done on El Faro in 2005-06 should have been considered a “major conversion” as well, but was not. That also could have required the lifeboat systems be brought in to the modern era. Their recommendations also include outfitting crew with personal locating beacons and requiring the ship’s EPIRB to transmit location, in order to aid in search and rescue operations. Investigators say they believe the personal locating beacons would cost about $300-$400 each, and a locating EPIRB would be about $800. In terms of the information transferred by the beacons, there is inconsistency in how the location data is formatted. The NTSB Board was surprised to learn this was an issue that had never been identified  in the past, but staff has put forward a recommendation that would standardize that, and therefore lead to fewer vulnerabilities during the early phases of search and rescue. AUDIO: El Faro’s Captain describes “marine emergency” in final shoreside communication The crew may have also been inhibited in their attempt to safely abandon the ship because the Master, Captain Michael Davidson, took too long to muster them, according to the NTSB staff. Mike Kucharski, with the Operations Group, says there were several points where the crew should have been mustered- when flooding was discovered, when the ship lost propulsion, when they were having difficulty with the list, and when the flooding continued to worsen. He says crew could have helped investigate the cause of the flooding and potentially combat it. “By the time the Captain recognized the ship’s perilious condition and sounded signals to muster and abandon ship, it was too late for the crew to assist and to successfully abandon the vessel,” Kucharski says. Many of the Captain’s decisions are being questioned by the NTSB staff. Captured on the ship’s Voyage Data Recorder, or black box, are multiple attempts by officers to have Davidson alter El Faro’s course in the hours ahead of the sinking. Davidson turned down those suggestions and- despite receiving multiple calls- did not return to the bridge until a few hours before they ultimately went down. When asked why Davidson did not heed the warnings from his crew, Carrie Bell with the NTSB’s Human Factors Group said they believe this was because of several factors, including his prior experience with storms in the Alaskan trade and possible overconfidence from having come through risky situations.  DETAILED LOOK: El Faro’s Voyage Data Recorder transcript “By not coming to the bridge as the Mates suggested, and by dismissing their suggestions to change course, the Captain missed opportunities to to reassess the situation and alter the voyage plan.  Given the responsibility of this position and the risk of the upcoming weather, it is difficult to explain how the Captain could have been absent from the bridge while the ship sailed in to a hurricane,” Bell says. The track and intensity forecasts for Hurricane Joaquin were inconsistent and had a large margin of error and there were issues with some of the processed weather information the Captain was relying on taking hours to come through and- in one case- containing outdated information. Despite that, the NTSB believes there was adequate data available to plan for this voyage. The Board said the Captain’s decision to leave on that final voyage with the storm brewing was low risk, but his voyage planning left them heading toward an intersection with the storm from the outset. Sumwalt questioned the responsibility of the crew in this type of situation to be more forceful in their suggestions. Bell says the focus of investigators was on the need for open communication and mutual respect, which is why one of the recommendations is to provide recurring training on Bridge Resource Management. Nonetheless, Sumwalt offered an additional finding- which was adopted by the Board- which says if the officers had been more forceful and direct in their communication with Davidson, it’s possible he could have assessed the situation differently. Some family members of the fallen El Faro crew were not happy with the vote. “For him to say the officers wasn’t aggressive enough trying to get the Captain’s attention, that was ridiculous. I mean, three phone calls when the Captain knows there’s a storm- what Captain wouldn’t come out of their room,” Claudia Shultz, the wife of El Faro’s Chief Mate Steve Shultz, told our partner Action News Jax while at the meeting in Washington DC. That breakdown in Bridge Resource Management is one of the reasons El Faro’s owner and operator- which both fall under the TOTE organization- have blame as well under the NTSB report. The company failed to enforce some of its manuals and guidelines, did not provide heavy weather assistance or route planning services, inconsistently evaluated key personnel, did not provide enough training, and other problems. “The company’s lack of oversight in critical aspects of safety management, including gaps in training for shipboard operations in severe weather, denoted a weak safety culture in the company and contributed to the sinking of El Faro,” says the NTSB’s findings. TOTE says they have fully supported the investigation and are eager to review the NTSB’s final report. “The investigation was complex. Assessing the large quantities of records and extensive testimony was a daunting task for these investigative teams. We appreciate the  time and effort both the Coast Guard and NTSB investigators expended in their efforts. The TOTE organization will carefully study the final Coast Guard and NTSB reports of investigation once they are formally issued. We as a company intend to learn everything possible from this accident and the resulting investigations to prevent anything similar from occurring in the future. We will also assist both investigative bodies in communicating lessons learned from the accident to the broader maritime industry,” says a statement from a TOTE Spokesperson. TOTE further says they remain focused on caring for the families of those who died in the sinking and protecting the mariners at sea now. There are also several factors that have been ruled out as contributing to the sinking, under the draft findings. It’s not believed there was any failure in El Faro’s hull. There is a significant crack that can be seen on the wreckage where she lies now, but investigators believe that was the result of impact with the ocean floor. The ship also lost the bridge and part of the deck, but that’s also believed to have been a result of the sinking, not a cause.  Additionally, there were five Polish nationals on El Faro performing work to prepare her to convert to the Alaska trade. NTSB investigators say there is no indication the work that riding gang was doing on board contributed to the sinking. With the NTSB’s investigation done, their attention is shifting to lobbying for change. “The recommendations we’ve adopted today, if acted upon, will result in a broad range of improvements to the safety or marine transportation. As a result of this investigation we’ve plotted a safer course for future generations of mariners. But it is up to the recipients of these recommendations to make a conscious choice, the right choice, to follow that course,” Sumwalt says. In all, 29 recommendations have been issued to the US Coast Guard, two to the Federal Communications Commission, one to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, nine to the International Association of Classification Societies, one to the American Bureau of Shipping, one to Furuno Electric Company, and ten to TOTE Services. FULL LIST: NTSB’s findings and recommendations from their El Faro sinking investigation These recommendations come in addition to several others already issued by the NTSB as a result of this investigation. Those came out earlier this year, directly addressing issues dealing with the safety of mariners at sea in heavy weather conditions. The NTSB issued those recommendations along with the start of the Atlantic hurricane season. Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson was quick to commit to change. “The El Faro sinking was a tragedy. The NTSB’s findings clearly show that more can be done to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.  These recommendations coupled with the Coast Guard’s investigation set out a clear path for improving safety on our ships,” says a statement from Nelson, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the Coast Guard. Family members want to make sure the talk will lead to action. “That’s why I’m so heavily involved coming back a nd forth, talking with the Coast Guard,  NTSB, and whoever else I need to talk to- that this cannot happen again,” Rochelle Hamm, wife of El Faro Able Seaman Frank Hamm, told our partner Action News Jax. “The Congress has the will to enact these as law.  Words and recommendations is fine, but actions speak louder than words,” Glen Jackson, brother of El Faro Able Seaman Jack Jackson told our partner Action News Jax while at the NTSB meeting. The NTSB fully participated in three two-week hearing sessions held by a Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation, which has also been probing the sinking. While the two bodies collaborated through much of the investigation, the NTSB also conducted their own interviews and analysis, and has been operating independently since the last hearing session.  The MBI has issued its Report of Investigation, which also found fault in the Captain and El Faro’s owner/operator, as well as the American Bureau of Shipping and the Coast Guard itself. The Commandant of the Coast Guard is currently reviewing that ROI to determine which of the recommendations and findings he concurs with and how to create change in those areas. There is no timeline on how long his review will last. The attorney for El Faro Master Captain Michael Davidson has issued a statement disagreeing with much of the NTSB report. “We appreciate the efforts made by the NTSB during their investigation of the loss of the El Faro. Unfortunately, the findings made by the NTSB contradict, in part, evidence presented during the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation (“MBI”)hearing. The NTSB’s presentation clearly established that the NTSB overlooked, ignored or was unfamiliar with the facts as established by evidence presented during the 6 weeks of hearings conducted by the MBI.  “For example, numerous witnesses testified during the MBI, including former deck officers and a US Coast Guard shiprider, that Captain Davidson practiced excellent bridge resource management. In addition, contrary to the findings of the NTSB, documentation was submitted during the MBI that established Captain Davidson conducted bridge resource management meetings/drills on a quarterly basis, far exceeding the requirements set forth by regulation. Further, during the voyage Captain Davidson was up on the bridge at least once per hour from 0500 to 2000 the day before the vessel was lost discussing the vessels track line and weather with his officers. The VDR transcript also establishes that he and the Chief Mate, a licensed master as well, spent a significant amount of time exchanging thoughts about the weather and vessel’s trackline including just a few hours before the sinking.  “Much was also said about the last call the Second Mate made to the Captain communicating a course change option. What was not said, however, was the option to change course was previously discussed between the Captain and his Chief Mate and the Second Mate warned the Captain that the option to change course included numerous shallow areas. The VDR transcript also established that prior to the call to the Master, the Second Mate told the AB on watch that the option was very risky.  “The NTSB presentation yesterday completely ignored significant comments made by Brian Curtis, Director of Marine Safety at the NTSB, who previously acknowledged to the trade publication Tradewinds that vessels transit hurricanes. Several witnesses during the MBI, including at least two Masters, testified they sailed through hurricanes. The NTSB staff members and board members repeatedly referenced winds in excess of 100 knots. These references were misleading. The weather data indicates that the vessel never experienced winds above 75 mph and the sea state the vessel experienced was between 23 and 30 feet high. The weather conditions that the El Faro experienced should not have caused the vessel to sink. In this regard, it is noteworthy that Tote’s well respected naval architect concluded, it is likely that the vessel would have survived had the scuttle been closed.  “Accordingly, based on all of the evidence that was presented in this case, it is clear that there was no single primary cause for the sinking – rather it was a combination of many unfortunate contributing factors that caused the sinking,” says the statement from attorney Bill Bennett.
  • More than two years after their investigation in to the sinking of cargo ship El Faro began, the National Transportation Safety Board is poised to release their recommendations on how to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.  The NTSB has compiled more than 50 proposed recommendations as a result of their investigation, which has totaled some 30,500 hours and $5.6 million. They’re also produced more than 70 findings connected to the sinking- all of which face a vote by the Board on Tuesday. While the exact recommendations won’t be disclosed until the meeting, the NTSB says they deal with the Captain’s actions, currency of weather information, bridge team management, company oversight, damage control plans, and survival craft suitability.  FULL COVERAGE:The sinking of El Faro 33 people on board El Faro died when the ship went down in Hurricane Joaquin, while traveling from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico.  GALLERY:Tributes to the El Faro crew Tuesday’s NTSB meeting will be carried out slightly different than others, because of the volume of information being discussed. Generally, Chairmen of the NTSB groups studying various aspects of transportation incidents will present their reports, and then the Managing Director will read all of the findings, recommendations, and the probable cause of the incident- on which the Board will vote. For Tuesday’s meeting on the sinking of El Faro, findings and recommendations will be presented throughout the Group Chairman’s reports. Probable cause will still be read at the end by the Managing Director.  The NTSB is making the changes in order to make the meeting easier to follow and more concise. Regardless, the NTSB tells WOKV the meeting is expected to last all day.  It also may take a little longer than the standard allotment of up to ten days to produce the NTSB’s Final Report after the meeting. That report will have the accident synopsis, as well as what the Board approves.  From there, the NTSB will advocate for the implementation of their recommendations, as they do with all other cases. What the Board votes on are recommendations, not actual changes. The recommendations could be issued to government entities, industry leaders, professional organizations, manufacturers, or any number of other groups- whoever the NTSB believes is most directly responsible for or able to implement change.  FULL COVERAGE: In-depth on the NTSB Group Chairman Factual Reports Because the NTSB is not a regulatory agency, there will not be any blame or liability addressed, or recommendations of penalties for any violations of law or regulations. Instead, they issue these recommendations in an effort to prevent more transportation incidents and save lives.  El Faro sank in Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015, killing all 33 people on board. The ship took on water and faced engineering issues- including a loss of propulsion- because of the resulting list and efforts to balance the ship out. Cargo is also believed to have been breaking free and shifting both above and below deck, although parties involved dispute the severity and, ultimately, impact that had on the sinking. While the final moments captured by the ship’s Voyage Data Recorder- or black box- capture the Captain calling to abandon ship, investigators don’t believe the lifeboats ever launched.  AUDIO: El Faro’s Master describes ‘marine emergency’ The NTSB conducted three missions to locate and recover that VDR- it was found on the second mission, but couldn’t be brought up until a third trip, which included deploying specialized salvage equipment. From that VDR, the NTSB produced the longest transcript it has ever assembled, which detailed about 26 hours of audio captured from the bridge. There was other data recovered in the device as well, including location and meteorological conditions.  The NTSB Group Chairmen’s reports have been released gradually throughout the course of the investigation. WOKV has gone through each in detail to learn the various factors involved in areas like engineering, survival, and human performance. During Tuesday’s meeting, those reports will be expanded on, and the Board will vote on the recommendations surfacing from that investigative work.  While the NTSB is operating independently at this point and has conducted their own interviews and investigative work since the sinking, they also fully participated in three, two-week hearing sessions conducted in Jacksonville by a Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation that also probed the sinking. The MBI released its Report of Investigation on October 1, two years after the sinking. The Coast Guard Commandant is currently reviewing the ROI to determine which of the MBI’s recommendations he concurs with and which he does not. From there, the Commandant will order change in areas he controls through the Coast Guard and create plans to achieve the recommendations that require collaborations with other government entities or groups.  The MBI’s process was also outside of the standard for this investigation- generally the ROI is not public until after the Commandant issues his Final Action Memo. The MBI wanted to promote transparency and provide the public information before that, with no set timeline for when the FAM will be released.  VOYAGE DATA RECORDER: El Faro’s final hours The MBI’s work is different than the NTSB in a number of ways, including that they can make recommendations on penalties, and did, in fact, recommended civil penalty action against El Faro’s owner and operator. The MBI Board Chair further confirmed that they would have recommended a negligence complaint against the ship Master’s credentials, had he survived.  The NTSB has not waited for their investigation to be complete to issue recommendations. With the start of the Atlantic Hurricane season, the NTSB issued several recommendations from their ongoing work on the El Faro sinking, which they believed would be important for promoting the safety of mariners at sea during the storm season.  WOKV will follow Tuesday’s meeting as the findings, recommendations, and probable cause are discussed and ultimately voted on. Get developing details on Twitter.
  • As the Coast Guard Commandant continues his review of recommendations put forward by a Marine Board of Investigation after their two year probe of the sinking of El Faro, we’ve confirmed there are dozens of comments from interested parties that have also been brought forward. WOKV first told you back in October when, on the two year commemoration of the cargo ship going down in Hurricane Joaquin, the MBI issued its Report of Investigation that included 31 safety recommendations for how to prevent a tragedy like this in the future. The ROI also recommended four administrative changes and civil penalty action against the cargo ship’s operator. FULL COVERAGE: The sinking of El Faro Since then, the Coast Guard Commandant has been reviewing the ROI to determine which recommendations he concurs with, which he agrees with a caveat, and which he does not support. Of those he concurs with, the Commandant will then order change in areas he controls and create a plan for action among those he does not. All of those changes will be outlined in his Final Action Memo. WOKV has now confirmed that, in addition to the work of the investigators, the Commandant has received 59 comments to also weigh in his review. During the month after the ROI was released, the Coast Guard accepted comments from parties wanting to submit feedback. A Coast Guard Spokesperson says 20 comments were received from family members of the 33 people who died in the sinking, and 39 comments came from “Parties In Interest”- which are a few organizations that were designated by the MBI to have a stake in their probe. The content of these comments won’t be public until the Commandant’s FAM is released, but a Coast Guard Spokesperson says they are  being reviewed before any final decision is made. “Although there is no specific timeframe for the release of the FAM, it is of the highest priority for the service; the Coast Guard is eager to move forward with the lessons learned and take actions to improve safety at sea,” says Coast Guard Spokesperson Lieutenant Amy Midgett. When the ROI was released, some family members expressed intentions to submit comments, telling us they want to make sure the Coast Guard remembers the human toll left by the sinking. Those family members said their priority was ensuring there would be change after these deaths, so that 33 lives were not lost in vain. The recommendations from the MBI deal with a wide range of areas- oversight, ship design, safety equiptment, crew training, weather forecast products, and more. The ROI found the ship’s proximity to Hurricane Joaquin was the key factor in the sinking, but the Coast Guard, El Faro’s Master Captain Michael Davidson, the owner/operator TOTE, and the surveyor/Alternate Class Society the American Bureau of Shipping all share responsibility. The National Transportation Safety Board is releasing their own probable cause, findings, and recommendations later this month. The MBI and NTSB cooperated through much of the investigation, which included producing the NTSB’s longest ever transcript of a Voyage Data Recorder, or black box. The investigative groups broke to finalize their work independently earlier this year.
  • The newly released Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation Report on the El Faro sinking faults the ship’s Master, Captain Michael Davidson, among the parties responsible for the tragedy. The fault is to the point where MBI Chairman Captain Jason Neubauer says, had Davidson survived, they would have recommended a negligence complaint against his mariner’s credential. Now, the attorney for Davidson’s widow is fighting back against the assessment. “We have only had a brief opportunity to review the Coast Guard's report, however, based on this preliminary review, we believe there are serious omissions of critical facts and faulty analysis. Although he was the Captain of the El Faro and thus responsible for the safety of the vessel there are many other key factors that primarily caused the sinking of the vessel and thus we do not agree with all aspects of the USCG report,” says the full statement from attorney William Bennett. AUDIO:El Faro Captain’s final shoreside call describes “marine emergency” This statement to WOKV late Sunday followed one earlier in the day extended condolences to the families of those lost in the sinking and thanked the Coast Guard, MBI Chair Captain Jason Neubauer, and the other investigators in the case. CONTINUING COVERAGE: The sinking of El Faro Bennett’s statement is the sharpest of the “Parties In Interest” so far. As part of the MBI investigation, there were four PIIs named who both provided information to investigators and questioned MBI witnesses: TOTE, as parent to El Faro’s owner TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico and El Faro’s operator TOTE Services; Davidson, represented by his widow through Bennett; the American Bureau of Shipping, as El Faro’s surveyor under the Alternate Compliance Program inspection protocol; and Herbert Engineering. GALLERY:El Faro’s wreckage The MBI did recommend civil penalty action against El Faro’s operator, TOTE Services, over a failure to report two repairs to surveyors, potential failure in giving riding crew members required safety training, and failure to comply with work/rest standards. 'The El Faro and its crew were lost on our watch and for this we will be eternally sorry. Nothing we can do will bring back the remarkable crew, but everything we do can work to ensure that those who go to sea, serving us all, are in ever safer environments. The report, which we and so many others, whom we would like to thank, worked relentlessly on, is another piece of this sacred obligation that everyone who works upon the sea must study and embrace. The report details industry practices which need change. We are committed to working with every stakeholder on these comments and recommendations. We remain focused as we have from the start, on caring for the families of those we lost and working daily ashore and at sea to safeguard the lives of all mariners,' says the full statement from TOTE. GALLERY: Tributes to the El Faro crew There are no penalties recommended against the American Bureau of Shipping, although the safety recommendations include the Coast Guard increasing its oversight under the Alternate Compliance Program training protocol. “ABS received the U.S. Coast Guard MBI report and currently is reviewing same. ABS is dedicated to its mission of protecting life, property, and the environment and is committed to working with the Coast Guard and the U.S. shipping industry in improving safety standards and applying lessons learned. We meet regularly with the US Coast Guard (USCG) to review the Alternative Compliance Program (ACP) with the goal of sharing information and continuously improving the program. ABS remains saddened at the loss of the El Faro and its crew and will continue working with the USCG and the marine industry in an effort to prevent such a catastrophic event from happening again,” says the full statement from the American Bureau of Shipping. We have mutiple requests out to Herbert Engineering and have not yet heard back. Because of the NTSB’s ongoing investigation, we also requested their perspective on the MBI Report. “The NTSB will review the Coast Guard’s Marine Board of Investigation report and thanks the U.S. Coast Guard for the tremendous support it has provided the NTSB throughout the El Faro investigation. The exhaustive efforts of both agencies seek to identify and correct the underlying causes of this tragedy. While each agency worked collaboratively to collect and confirm the facts, the reports will reflect the independent analysis required of each organization. The NTSB plans to release its report during a public meeting in Washington, Dec. 12, 2017,” says the full statement from an NTSB Spokesperson. FULL RECAP:Factual reports from the NTSB’s investigation The NTSB was responsible for salvaging El Faro’s Voyage Data Recorder- or black box- which was the deepest recovery of the device from a commercial ship in several decades. The more than 26 hours of data captured included conversations from the bridge and other data that helped investigators fill holes previously left because there were no survivors in this sinking.  While the full NTSB report with recommendations comes out later this year, the Board has already issued several recommendations dealing with mariner safety, which coincided with this year’s hurricane season. Feedback from the PIIs, as well as the families of the 33 people who died in the sinking, can be submitted over the next 30 days for consideration by the Coast Guard Commandant. The Commandant will ultimately determine what recommendations from the MBI Report will be ordered, what will be achieved through the help of other parties, and which of the recommendations will not be followed through on. There is no set timeline for when that order- or Final Action Memo- will be released.
  • As the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation releases their findings on the El Faro sinking two years after the ship went down in Hurricane Joaquin, the Board Chair is giving us a better idea of the thought and intent behind those recommendations. IN DEPTH: Coast Guard investigators recommend civil penalty action against El Faro’s operator MBI Chair Captain Jason Neubauer says they identified multiple factors that contributed to the sinking, all of which link back to four parties: El Faro’s Master Captain Michael Davidson; TOTE, as the company over El Faro’s owner TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico and operator TOTE Services; the American Bureau of Shipping, as El Faro’s surveyor under the Alternate Complaince Program; and the Coast Guard. The primary problem, according to the MBI, was the ship’s proximity to the eye of Joaquin. “The Master misjudged the path of Hurricane Joaquin and overestimated the vessel’s heavy weather survivability, while also failing to take adequate precautions to monitor and prepare for heavy weather. During critical periods of navigation, when watchstanders were looking to the Master for his guidance and expertise, he failed to understand the severity and that the El Faro’s projected closest point of approach was decreasing,” Neubauer says. While the MBI Report doesn’t impose any penalties on the licenses of active mariners, Neubauer says- had Davidson survived- they would have recommended a negligence complaint against his credentials. GALLERY:El Faro’s wreckage While Davidson is ultimately responsible for the ship’s navigation, TOTE is responsible for its safe operation. Neubauer says TOTE failed to identify heavy weather as a threat to the vessel and failed to comply with work/rest requirements. He says the Safety Management System was “ineffective” when faced with discrepancies and “insufficient” for supporting the vessel operations while at sea. The MBI has recommended civil penalty action against TOTE because of the work/rest violations, potential failure to have trained the riding crew, and two instances where repairs were not reported to the appropriate channels. Neubauer says the Officer in Charge, Marine Inspections in Sector Jacksonville will be responsible for that investigation, which he believes could ultimately lead to fines totaling around $80,000. FULL DOCUMENT: Coast Guard MBI’s Report of Investigation TOTE also shares in responsibility for the condition of the ship, as does the vessel’s authorized class society under the Alternate Compliance Program- the American Bureau of Shipping. Neubauer says ABS failed to meet “expected performance standards under ACP, which is a special inspection program that allows ACS’s to conduct some survey work on behalf of the Coast Guard. “The use of unqualified surveyors for boiler inspections on the El Faro, the lack of timely communication with the Coast Guard ahead of ACP activities, and the failure of surveyors to identify degraded material condition in key areas aboard the El Yunque- a sister vessel to the El Faro- all raise concerns about ABS’s performance on behalf of the Coast Guard,” Neubauer says. WOKV asked Neubauer whether he’s comfortable with ABS still performing surveys under ACP at this time. “The MBI did find some areas that we can improve, and there are several recommendations in the Report that point to areas where we can enhance training, oversee ACS competency, and also be more transparent in the results of the US flagged surveys and inspections that we conduct, specially substandard inspections- where we find vessels are substandard,” he says. CONTINUING COVERAGE: The sinking of El Faro The Coast Guard also bears responsibility, according to Neubauer, for a lack of regulatory oversight under ACP. In the case of the extreme wastage that was found on El Faro’s sister ship, El Yunque, and presumed to be on the vessel itself, Neubauer says there was a regulatory failure across the board. “The problem with those areas is that they were hard to access, and it was missed by not only TOTE, but by ABS and the Coast Guard. The wastage we saw on El Yunque was longstanding, and would have been there for many years. So, we just felt, in the end, something was missed by the entire regulatory system,” he says. He says the MBI has determined the Coast Guard was wrong to not determine the ship’s conversion from “roll-on roll-off” to also accomodating cargo to be a “major conversion”- something that would have triggered new regulations and reviews on the ship’s operation. Additionally, he says there was apparently some kind of flaw in the design process, which allowed El Faro to operate with a low level of lube oil sump. The MBI has determined that, with the conditions El Faro was facing, that low level likely resulted in a loss of suction, which led to the loss of propulsion, but he says that was a risk the crew was not aware of. GALLERY: Tributes to the El Faro crew The MBI Report  and recommendations focus on the Safety Management System, according to Neubauer- making sure the company identifies risks to the crew and vessel and conducts drills to appropriately test that. He says the MBI wants to see the current drill requirements go even further, testing damage control scenarios as well. This is partly due to the MBI’s assessment that the crew didn’t appear to fully know how to appropriately respond to this incident. Another personnel factor- aside from work/rest hours- is the apparent anxiety on board over TOTE’s selection of crew for their new class of vessels, among other things. To address some of the potential crewing concerns, the MBI is recommending data- including work/rest hours- be periodically sent back to shore while a ship is at sea, in order to prevent one of their frustrations in this investigation, that the crew logs were on board at the time of the sinking. Additionally, the ship’s age- and the fact that it was therefore grandfathered in under older regulations- was a key focus of the investigation. El Faro was still allowed to have open lifeboats because of her age, although ships constructed after the mid 1980s are required to have fully enclosed lifeboats. Neubauer says there are about 50 deep draft vessels that still have open lifeboats, and that’s something they want to change. He says the lifeboats El Faro’s crew had available were “not an option” in the weather conditions they faced, but they “may have had a chance” with newer models. GALLERY:Exhibits from the NTSB’s El Faro investigation Families of the 33 people who lost their lives in the sinking were briefed by investigators yesterday at three locations- one briefing in Jacksonville, one in Maine, and one in Poland. Unlike most other MBIs, the ROI is being publicly released before the Commandant issues his final action. The Board tells us they wanted to be transparent and also give the maritime industry the ability to self correct, which is why they sought the exception to release the ROI now. Neubauer says he’s already seen some corrections in the two years this investigation has run. He says there has been an increased awareness of watertightness, especially on older vessels. The Coast  Guard also launched a heightened inspection program on some ACP vessels, especially older ones. The work done by traveling inspectors ultimately led to three vessels being scrapped and several others receiving “no sail” orders, pending upgrades. There’s no set timeline for how long the Commandant will take to review the ROI and issue his orders. El Faro sank October 1, 2015 in Hurricane Joaquin, while heavily loaded with cargo and transiting from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico. The remains of only one of the 33 people on board were located, but because of the ongoing search and rescue operations, those remains were not recovered.  AUDIO: El Faro Captain’s final shoreside call describes “marine emergency” Other recommendations from the MBI include that there be more GPS beacons- including for the crew and VDR- to increase the chance of location after an incident like this. They’re further asking VDR’s be required to capture more information, including the other end of phone conversations- with the current system only recording conversations taking place in the bridge. El Faro’s Voyage Data Recorder- or black box- transcription was the longest ever compiled by the NTSB. It took two missions to find the VDR and a third to salvage it, but the devide ultimately gave investigators more than 26 hours of data, including conversations from the bridge. The NTSB participated in the MBI hearing process, but is conducting its own investigation. Until now, they’ve released several factual reports, interview transcriptions, and other information, but their full recommendations will be voted on by the Board in December. They’ve already put out recommendations about the safety of mariners at sea. They issued that along with the start of hurricane season, saying they didn’t want to wait to try to create action. FULL RECAP:Factual reports from the NTSB’s investigation There were three two-week hearing sessions held in Jacksonville by the MBI, during which dozens of witnesses were called for questioning by the MBI, NTSB, and four “Parties in Interest”- the American Bureau of Shipping, Herbert Engineering, TOTE, and the widow of El Faro’s Captain. All 33 families have previously settled their wrongful death lawsuits against the owner and operator of the vessel. Overall, Neubauer says the Board feels this investigation is the most important work they will do in their careers, and they’re optimistic it will lead to real change. He says there’s already a team at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington DC that’s working on the Final Action Memo the Commandant will issue. “I know that it’s a high priority,” he says. The attorney for the widow of El Faro’s Captain says they disagree with portions of the Report. He, and the other PII’s and families, have 30 days to submit their comments to the Commandant for consideration.
  • Two years after the cargo ship El Faro sank while transiting from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico, the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation that’s been working the tragedy has issued 31 safety recommendations, four administrative recommendations, and a recommendation to pursue civil penalties against the ship’s operator, TOTE Services. While there are no penalties being sought against the license and credential of any active mariner, the MBI Chair says they would have pursued a negligence complaint against the Master’s credential, if he had survived. CONTINUING COVERAGE: The sinking of El Faro WOKV has obtained the Marine Board of Investigation’s Report of Investigation, which was released to families of the 33 who died in the sinking Saturday, and is publicly available today. The Coast Guard Commandant will now determine which of these findings and recommendations he concurs with, which he doesn’t, and which he agrees to in part- and the Final Action Memo that results from that will be what ultimately leads to change. FULL DOCUMENT: MBI’s Report of Investigation The cargo ship was heavily loaded when it encountered Hurricane Joaquin off the Bahamas, and ultimately sank on October 1, 2015. While one set of remains was located during the active search and rescue mission, none of the 33 crew were ever recovered. The Report details, at length, the events of the sinking, including the ship’s proximity to Hurricane Joaquin, the initial starboard list and intermittent flooding, and the reduction of propulsion, the subsequent port list and loss of propulsion. Among those top lines are contributing factors. Factors that contributed to the El Faro sinking and search operations The sinking stems from the ship’s proximinty to Hurricane Joaquin, according to investigators, but there are four key parties they cite as responsible in varying ways: TOTE, El Faro’s Captain Michael Davidson, the American Bureau of Shipping, and the Coast Guard. In connection to the ship’s weather-related problems, the Report says El Faro’s Master didn’t “adequately” identify the risk of heavy weather; TOTE, the Master, and the ship’s officers weren’t aware of vessel vulnerabilities and operating limitations in heavy weather; the National Hurricane Center created and distributed tropical weather forecsts that were later shown to be inaccurate; and a duplicate track line was sent through one of El Faro’s weather softwares.  In the sequence that ultimately led to El Faro’s flooding, the Report says there was water that got on board not only through an open scuttle, but “likely through deteriorated internal structures and open cargo hold ventilation fire dampers, which compromised watertight integrity”; the crew’s “complacency, lack of traning and procedures, and El Faro’s design” which hampered the crew’s ability to assess watertight integrity; the Master, Chief Mate, and crew not ensuring cargo was secured according to the ship’s Cargo Securing Manual; an imcomplete survey compliance and material condition history of the vessel; and a lack of procedures for storm avoidance and heavy weather plans that specifically contained engineering operating procedures, which contributed to the lack of propulsion. AUDIO: El Faro’s Captain describes “marine emergency” in final shoreside communication There were problems highlighted as well with search and rescue operations and the ultimate call to abandon ship. The Report says there was a lack of effective training by crew, as well as inadequate ovresight by TOTE, the Coast Guard, and the American Bureau of Shipping, leading the crew to be unprepared to take the proper actions. Additionally, investigators say the Master didn’t update shoreside contacts when the crew was preparing to abandon ship; the lifeboats were “completely inadequate” as an option for the crew in those weather conditions- despite them meeting appropriate standards; and Coast Guard search and rescue operations failed to effectively mark the one deceased crew member who was located, meaning that person could not be later recovered or identified. GALLERY: Tributes to the El Faro crew There were other unsafe actions and conditions identified in the Report that were not believed to contribute to the sinking, including a lack of specific requirements for review and approval of software for cargo loading and secring calculations; no regulations for stability software; and TOTE’s failure to notify the ship’s surveyor, the American Bureau of Shipping, about repairs to the ship’s lifeboat davits. Recommendations for safety, administration, and civil penalty action In their recommendation to pursue civil penalty against TOTE Services- El Faro’s operator- the MBI cites four key factors: a failure to comply with work-rest requirements, failure to comply with emergency procedures for special personnel by potentially not providing a safety orientation or basic safety training for the Polish riding crew, failure to notify the Coast Guard or ABS about repairs to El Faro’s lifeboat davits just ahead of the sinking voyage, and failure to notify the Coast Guard or ABS of repairs to the ship’s main propulsion boiler superheating piping in August. GALLERY:El Faro’s wreckage There are 31 safety recommendations put forward in the Report. Some of the recommendations aim at ship design and on board capabilities. The Board wants to require high water audio and visual alarms in cargo hold of dry cargo vessels, to install CCTV cameras to monitor unmanned spaces from the bridge, to review regulation and policy dealing with non-watertight openings that can’t be closed during ship operations, to require the periodic transmission of electronic records and data while a ship is at sea. With potential lifesaving measures, the Board recommends the Commandant work to organize legislative change to eliminate open top gravity launched lifeboats for all oceangoing ships in the US commercial fleet, Voyage Data Recorder capsules be installed in a float-free arrangement, personal floatation devices on commercial vessels be outfitted with personal locator beacons, an anonymous safety reporting mechanism be set up for crew at sea. Dealing with oversight, the Report recommends a change in regulation to require onboard and shoreside tracking of incremental vessel weight changes, regulation and approval of cargo loading software and stability software, explicit language showing the Coast Guard shares responsibility for assessing the adequacy of a company’s safety management system, increased oversight by the Coast Guard of third party surveys and a quality audit specific to the performance of those surveys. Additionally, the Report recommends NOAA evaluate the effectiveness and responsiveness of its current forecast products, specifically in connection to storms that impact maritime operations but don’t make landfall. It also asks the Commandant to review the effectiveness of the Coast Guard credentialing process, add some new training courses. There are also four administrative recommendations- acquire DNA samples for the purpose of identifying human remains, require VDRs to capture all communications on a ship’s internal telephone system, ensure the Coast Guard has full access and ability to use VDR data and audio, and require more documentation of deficiencies that are put to a class society for correction. There are no recommendations of criminal prosecution, no recommendations of administrative or punitive action against the Coast Guard, and no recommendations of suspension or revocation action against any credentialed mariner. Background on the investigation The release of this report comes seven months after the final of three two-week MBI hearing sessions that were held in Jacksonville. The MBI, NTSB, and four “Parties in Interest”- TOTE, the American Bureau of Shipping, Herbert Engineering, and the widow of El Faro’s Captain- questioned dozens of witnesses, which included personnel within the companies that owned and operated the vessel, those involved in the search and rescue, those who had previously done inspections, former crew members, and others. The MBI’s Report was publicly released today, but privately disclosed to the families of the 33 people who died in the sinking on Saturday. Traditionally, the ROI isn’t released at this point, but rather given to the Commandant of the Coast Guard to consider first, and then made public along with the Commandant’s ordered action. In this case, there was an exception made. The MBI sought to make their ROI public at this stage both because they have aimed to be transparent through this process, and to allow the maritime industry to make some self corrections while the Commandant conducts his review- which has no set timeline. GALLERY: Exhibits from the NTSB’s El Faro investigation One of the briefings took place in Poland, to accomodate the families of the five Polish riding crew members who were on board, performing work to convert the ship to the Alaskan trade. All 33 families had filed wrongful death lawsuits against the owner and operator of the ship in federal court, but they have all since settled. El Faro’s Voyage Data Recorder- or black box- was salvaged from the ocean floor after three separate missions to find and ultimately bring it up. From the VDR, investigators got conversations from the bridge in the 26 hours leading up to the sinking, along with other data that gave information about shipboard systems, the weather they were facing, and more. The NTSB is issuing its own safety recommendations in December. They fully participated in the MBI hearings, but have also conducted their own interviews and issued their own factual reports.  FULL RECAP: NTSB factual reports and investigative findings so far While those full recommendations are still to come, the Board actually already issued some recommendations dealing specifically with the safety of mariners at sea during hurricane season, saying they didn’t want to wait to get action started on potentially life saving measures.
  • Two years to the day after the cargo ship El Faro sank in Hurricane Joaquin, killing all 33 people on board, recommendations on how to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again are set to be released. There have been two federal investigations taking place in the aftermath of the sinking- one by the NTSB and one by a Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation. The NTSB has previously announced that it will release its findings- to include a probable cause of the sinking and recommendations to address safety issues- in December. Now, WOKV has confirmed the Marine Board of Investigation Chairman has signed their Report of Investigation, and it will be publicly released October 1st. The ROI will include causal factors of the sinking and proposed safety recommendations for future action. FULL COVERAGE:El Faro sinking Typically, the ROI is not publicly released until the Commandant of the Coast Guard issues his own Final Action Memo, which details the MBI recommendations with which the Commandant concurs, does not concur, or concurs with some caveat. That FAM is what ultimately leads to action- either the Coast Guard directing and instituting change within itself, or laying out a plan to enact change through cooperation with lawmakers, agencies, and other involved parties.  With this El Faro investigation, the Coast Guard is allowing the ROI to be released ahead of the FAM. MBI Spokeswoman Alana Miller tells WOKV this was done for several reasons, including that it allows the maritime industry to make self corrections while the Commandant considers final action. Miller says they also feel that releasing the ROI helps the transparency and independence they have tried to maintain through this investigative process, by giving more information to the public and putting forward the recommendations straight from the MBI, unaltered. “The most important thing to remember is that 33 people lost their lives in this tragedy. If adopted, we believe the safety recommendations in our report will improve safety of life at sea,” says MBI Chairman Captain Jason Neubauer. There is some precedent for the early release of the ROI- which also happened during the Deepwater Horizon investigation- although it is not common, according to Miller. There is no timeline for how long the Commandant will review the ROI before issuing the FAM. GALLERY: Tributes to those who died on El Faro WOKV has further confirmed the families of the 33 people killed in the sinking will be briefed on the ROI a day ahead of the public release. Miller says the members of the MBI were insistent the families get the information firsthand and from those involved in the investigation, before it becomes public. There will be three briefings taking place virtually simultaneously- one in Jacksonville, given by Neubauer; one in Portland, ME, given by MBI member Commander Matt Denning; and one in Poland, given by a European liason. Five of the 33 who died were members of a Polish riding gang doing work on board the ship as she prepared to convert to the Alaskan trade. In addition to the briefing that will take place in Poland, the MBI intends to translate the ROI in to Polish as well. When the ROI becomes public on October 1st, Capt. Neubauer will also speak with media in Jacksonville. WOKV will have full coverage of the ROI and Capt. Neubauer’s comments as they’re available. The MBI held three two-week public hearing sessions in Jacksonville since the sinking, during which investigators questioned officials with the ship’s owner and operator, former crew members, those involved in the search and rescue efforts, those behind the weather technology on board, and others. Several “Parties In Interest” were also allowed to question the witnesses because of their involvement in the ship’s operation, including TOTE, the American Bureau of Shipping, Herbert Engineering, and the attorney for the widow of El Faro’s Captain. These PII’s will be emailed the ROI a day ahead of its public release- the same day the families are briefed- and will be able to follow up with one of the MBI’s Advisors as needed, according to Miller. Once the families and PII’s are given the ROI, they will have 30 days to submit comments to the Commandant of the Coast Guard for his consideration, as he weighs final action. The NTSB also participated in the MBI hearings, but additionally conducted their own interviews. Since the final MBI hearing session, the NTSB has been working independently on its own final report, which they will issue in December. GALLERY: El Faro’s wreckage A crucial point in the investigative process was the salvage and transcription of El Faro’s Voyage Data Recorder, or VDR- which is commonly known as the “black box”. This became the longest transcript ever assembled by the NTSB, with more than 26 hours of information captured ahead of the sinking. The VDR became a focal point of the third MBI hearing session, because it had not been available for the first two. The public hearing sessions and documents released by the NTSB so far show broadly that the ship was heavily loaded with cargo en route from Jacksonville, FL to Puerto Rico when she encountered Hurricane Joaquin. The Captain reported a substantial list after taking on water and losing propulsion, in his last shoreside contact. The final moments captured by the VDR detail the Captain sounding the alarms and calling to abandon ship, but none of the crew were ever recovered.  AUDIO: El Faro Captain’s final shoreside contact There have been a host of questions raised during the investigations which this ROI, the subsequent FAM, and the separate NTSB report are expected to address. The stability of El Faro’s cargo, the state of the ship itself, the inspection protocol covering El Faro and other commercial vessels, how the owner and operator communicated with ships at sea, the quality of the technology on board, crew training and rest, shipboard culture, the increasing workload of the ship and owner and operator- with an increase in cargo and the company transitioning to a new class of vessels- among other topics have been covered in WOKV’s extensive reporting since the sinking. The NTSB has actually issued a series of recommendations already, despite their investigation still being ongoing. They were released near the start of the hurricane season, specifically addressing measures to make mariners safer at sea in potential heavy weather situations.

The Latest News Headlines

  • Shanann Watts’ Facebook profile is one filled with love; love for her family and love for her job. >> UPDATE:  Father charged with murder The pregnant Colorado mother of two was found buried in a shallow grave Thursday, not far from where the bodies of her daughters, Bella, 4, and 3-year-old Celeste, were found hidden inside oil tanks on the property of Anadarko Petroleum Corp., the oil and gas exploration company for which their father worked, Weld County court records show.  The court records, obtained by 9News in Denver, also indicated that the victims may have been strangled. Their autopsy results had not been released as of Monday morning.  >> Related story: Shanann Watts, 2 daughters likely strangled, records show Christopher Lee Watts, 33, of Frederick, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of tampering with physical evidence in the slayings, which investigators believe took place Monday. That was the day that a friend of Shanann Watts’ reported the mother and daughters missing after she went to the family’s home and found no sign of them. Investigators said the victim’s vehicle and purse were at the house, as were medications for the girls.   In her social media posts, Shanann Watts appeared thrilled to be carrying her third child. In a video she posted June 11, she wore a T-shirt that read, “Oops, we did it again,” her way of telling Chris Watts he was again going to be a father.  In the recording, Chris Watts walks into the room and stops, reading the shirt. He laughs. “I like that shirt,” he says. “Really?” “Really,” his wife responds.  “That’s awesome,” he says. After kissing Shanann Watts, he says, “Guess when you want to, it happens.” Shanann Watts also recorded the moment she told her daughters that “Mommy has a baby in her belly.” Both girls cheer and jump up and down with excitement.  Shanann Watts juggled motherhood with her work as a salesperson for Le-Vel, a health and wellness company that sells nutritional products. Though she and her husband filed for bankruptcy protection a few years ago, her work and his job with Anadarko appeared to rejuvenate the couple’s finances.  Her Facebook feed was dedicated to her family and her work, which allowed for much travel.  “We have qualified for so many amazing trips in two years that we never otherwise would have been able to visit,” she wrote in one post.  Shanann Watts’ brother, Frankie Rzucek, wrote on Facebook Friday that his sister, who he looked up to, was the “hardest working person (he’s) ever known.” In an extensive post describing his only sibling, he revealed that she had lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes a person’s body to attack its own organs.  According to WebMD, it also means that any pregnancy is considered high-risk.  “Lupus can complicate pregnancy with an increased risk of miscarriage, premature delivery and preeclampsia, as well as heart problems in the baby,” according to the medical website. “When our family found out she beat all the odds and became pregnant, I can't even explain our excitement,” Rzucek wrote. “Shanann was born to be a mother and help change lives.” He called her a “picture-perfect” mother. “I was blown away when I moved out there and lived with her for a few months after her first-born daughter, Bella (My Bella Bean),” Rzucek wrote. “I was exhausted by just watching my sister. She made being a parent look easy.” Shanann Watts publicly shared many photos of her girls, along with videos. Bella was often the star of the videos, including one in which she sang a song calling her father a hero.  “My Daddy is a hero, he helps me grow up strong,” Bella sings, a shy smile on her face. “He reads me books, he ties my shoes. You’re a hero, through and through. My Daddy, Daddy, I love you.” “I totally just cried!” Shanann Watts wrote in the caption of the video.  In another video, the expectant mother asks Bella how many babies are in her belly.  “Five!” Bella says, grinning. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” a male voice says from off camera.  “That’s a lot of babies,” Shanann Watts says.  Bella, who would kiss her mother’s pregnant stomach each night, giggles as Shanann Watts tells her that she needs to grow up quickly because she’ll need a lot of help with all those babies.  In a June post showing a scrape on Celeste’s forehead, Shanann Watts calls the 3-year-old “one of the toughest kids (she knows).” She says that Celeste and her energy is the reason she started using Thrive, one of the products she sold for Le-Vel.  “Lawd, this kid gives me mini heart attacks on the regular,” Shanann Watts wrote.  In an interview with 9News in Denver the day before his arrest, Chris Watts also described the couple’s children.  “Celeste, she’s just a bottle of energy,” he said. “I call her ‘Rampage’ because she's got two speeds: go, or she’s sleeping. She’s always the troublemaker, she’s always the one, like, jumping off things. Bella, she’s the more calm, cautious, mothering type, and she’s more like me -- she’s more calm. Celeste has definitely got her mom’s personality, where she’s all gung-ho, ready to go.” See Chris Watts’ entire interview with 9News below. In a Father’s Day post accompanied by a photo collage of the family, Shanann Watts praises her husband. “Chris, we are so incredibly blessed to have you! You do so much every day for us and take such great care of us. You are the reason I was brave enough to agree to number 3! From laundry to kids’ showers! You are incredible, and we are so lucky to have you in our life! Happy Father’s Day!” Rzucek wrote that he let his anger toward Chris Watts get the better of him in a previous post, in which he called his brother-in-law a “heartless psychopath” and said he wanted just 30 seconds alone with him.  He said he would never delete or regret his comments, however.  “He stole my whole world and treated them like they were trash,” Rzucek wrote. “I’ve never been so mad, sad, enraged, hurt, heartbroken, lost and shocked in all my life. So forgive me for how I went about it. My sister and nieces meant the absolute world to me. They made me strive to be an even better man. I wanted them to be proud of their uncle.” Rzucek wrote that he could go on for days with memories of his beloved sister, who recently visited family in North Carolina with Bella and Celeste, but instead said he was proud and honored to receive the love and well-wishes of those who will miss Shanann Watts.  He also asked people to pray for Chris Watts’ family, who is also mourning. “I'm trying really hard not to hate him because that's not how we were raised, but I just can't find it in my heart. I really don’t know what to say,” Rzucek wrote. “I just thank God that I got to spend the last six weeks loving, laughing,and enjoying what precious time I had with my sister and nieces that I loved with every inch of my soul.  “I wish I could go back in time and be there to keep you safe from harm. Sorry Uncle couldn't save you.”
  • A man is facing charges after nearly colliding head-on with a law enforcement officer, before leading police on a chase - all while a young child sat in the car, according to the Jacksonville Sheriffs Office. JSO says 20-year old Elijah Malik was observed failing to stop at a posted stop sign at Golfair Blvd.  An officer on the scene initiated a traffic stop, but lost sight of the driver as he turned down a street with no outlet. The driver- Malik- then allegedly sped back in the direction of the officer, nearly colliding head-on with the patrol car and forcing it off the road.  According to the police report, the man was then observed driving through a Walgreens and McDonalds parking lot, nearly colliding with multiple vehicles and pedestrians.  Two officers pursued the vehicle, until JSO says the driver crashed at Rowe Ave. Malik allegedly refused verbal commands by arresting officers and had to be pulled from the vehicle.  The two passengers inside - one of who was a young child - were not injured in the crash.  Malik faces charges of child neglect, reckless driving, attempting to elude a law enforcement officer at high speed and more.
  • A pregnant Colorado woman and her two young daughters may have been strangled, according to court documents filed by the defense team for the husband and father accused of killing his entire family.  >> MORE: Father charged with murder Christopher Lee Watts, 33, of Frederick, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of tampering with physical evidence, for allegedly hiding the bodies of his wife, Shanann Watts, 34, and their daughters, Bella Watts, 4, and Celeste Watts, 3. The mother and daughters were reported missing Monday when a friend of Shanann Watts could not reach her.  >> Read more trending news 9News in Denver reported Friday that motions filed by defense attorney James Merson offered a glimpse into some of the details of the slayings. In one motion filed in Weld County, Merson indicated he’d spoken to a DNA expert, Richard Eikelenboom. Eikelenboom told Merson in the filing that “even though the bodies of two of the decedents have been in an oil well filled with crude oil for several days, DNA would still be present,” the news station reported.  Bella and Celeste Watts’ bodies were found hidden inside oil or gas tanks on the property of Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which employed Chris Watts until his arrest. The company said in a statement last week that he was fired Wednesday.  >> Related story: Bodies of 2 missing Colorado girls recovered as father appears in court Eikelenboom wrote in an email to Merson that it was his “expert opinion that DNA evidence would remain on the necks of the decedent children, in spite of the fact that the remains were in oil for four days,” the court records said. “In my opinion, the presence of oil will not destroy the DNA.” The Coloradoan reported that Merson’s motions focused on having the pathologist swab the children’s necks for DNA during their autopsies, which were scheduled for Friday. He also asked in the motion that DNA samples be taken from Shanann Watts hands and fingernails, along with the fingernails of the couple’s children, the newspaper reported.  Merson also requested that Eikelenboom be present during the autopsies.  The Coloradoan reported Sunday that a judge denied Merson’s requests for DNA swabs, saying he would not tell the medical examiner’s office how to do its job. The newspaper also reported that the autopsies were completed Friday, but the cause of the victims’ deaths have not been made public.  Additional court documents obtained Saturday by 9News indicated that Shanann Watts, who was about 15-weeks pregnant when she died, was found buried in a shallow grave near the tanks where her daughters were dumped. Those details were unveiled in a court filing by Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke, who was responding to the motions filed by Merson.  “The body of defendant’s wife was located earlier this morning after being recovered from a shallow grave near an oil tank,” prosecutors wrote in the motion filed late Thursday. “Later this afternoon, law enforcement recovered the bodies of defendant’s two daughters from inside oil tanks located near the grave of their mother. The Weld County coroner has informed the prosecution that time is of the essence in conducting the autopsies, especially for the children given the period of time their bodies were submerged in oil.” >> Related story: Colorado man who pleaded for return of missing wife, daughters arrested in deaths Shanann Watts and her daughters were reported missing last Monday, Aug. 13, when a friend of hers went to the Watts home and they were not there. That friend, Nickole Atkinson, told ABC News that she dropped Shanann off at the Watts home around 2 a.m. that morning, following a business trip.  She was supposed to pick her friend up again later that day, but when she arrived at the house around noon, Shanann and the girls were gone. Police later determined that Shanann Watts’ vehicle and purse were at the house, as were medications for the children.  Atkinson told ABC News that she “didn’t want to think the worst,” but felt that something was amiss because Chris Watts seemed unconcerned that his pregnant wife and young daughters were missing. “He was just sitting there waiting for something to happen; it just didn’t seem right to me,” Atkinson told the news agency.  Chris Watts gave an interview to 9News the day before his arrest. See his entire interview below. Atkinson said she was not shocked when Chris Watts was arrested, but said she did not know of any trouble in the marriage until the day her friend disappeared. She told ABC News that Chris Watts suggested that day that his wife had left him.  “When I called him and asked him where she was, that’s when he told me and I basically told him that that wasn’t my (concern) at that particular moment, because it wasn’t, and that their business was their business, that they would either work it out or they wouldn’t,” Atkinson said.  Chris Watts spoke out the day before his arrest in an interview with 9News, in which he described the situation as “a nightmare that (he) just (couldn’t) wake up from.”  The young father also addressed those who might think he had a hand in his family’s disappearance. “Everybody’s going to have their own opinion on anything like this,” Watts said. “I just want people to know that I want my family back. I want them safe and I want them here. This house is not the same.” Less than 24 hours later, Watts was in custody. A law enforcement source told 9News that Watts confessed to killing his wife and children.  No suspected motive has been made public by investigators. 
  • Pope Francis has written a letter to Catholics condemning sexual abuse by priests. >> On WPXI.com: Report names 300 alleged ‘predator priests’ >> Read more trending news  “Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient,” said the letter, which the Vatican released Monday. “Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.” >> On WPXI.com: Report: Ring of 'predatory priests' shared, photographed victims He added: “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.” >> Read the full letter here The letter came less than a week after a grand jury report identified more than 300 priests accused of abuse in six dioceses in Pennsylvania. According to WPXI, a ring of predatory priests with the Pittsburgh Diocese allegedly shared information on victims and exchanged the victims among themselves, as well as made child pornography on Diocesan property. >> On WPXI.com: Cardinal Wuerl moves monthly meeting with council of priests In his letter, Pope Francis said Catholics must “acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable.” He wrote: “Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others. An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion.” Read more here.
  •  Last week, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump was revoking the security clearance of former CIA chief John Brennan and was considering revoking several others over national security concerns. One of the other security clearances Trump was said to be considering revoking was that of Bruce Ohr, a Department of Justice employee. >>Trump revokes former CIA director John Brennan's security clearance Who is Ohr and why is he on the president’s list? Here’s a look at how Ohr fits into the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and has drawn Trump’s ire. First, some background. In 2015, the conservative website the Washington Beacon hired a company called Fusion GPS to investigate Trump after he announced he was running for president. Fusion GPS is a commercial research firm started by a group of former Wall Street Journal reporters. Fusion GPS hired former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to do that work, and Steele eventually produced a dossier on Trump. Steele claimed that in addition to salacious situations that Trump had supposedly engaged in, the then-candidate also had ties to various Russian businessmen and officials in the Russian government. Once Trump appeared to be a certainty for the Republican nomination for president, Fusion GPS’ assignment for the Beacon ended, but in April 2016, the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign hired Fusion to continue that investigation into Trump’s dealings. In the summer of 2016, Steele took his dossier to the FBI. The FBI began an investigation into possible Russian meddling in the election on July 31, 2016. How does Ohr figure into the story?  Ohr knew Steele and had discussions with him about the dossier. Ohr discussed what Steele had told him about Trump with people at Fusion GPS, according to The Washington Post. Fusion GPS founder, Glenn Simpson, testified before the House Intelligence Committee in November that both he and Steele had known Ohr previously. Simpson said he knew Ohr through organized crime conferences Ohr held when he was in charge of that unit at the DOJ. Simpson also testified before the House Intelligence Committee, that Steele suggested he speak to Ohr after the “very surprising” victory by Trump. “It was not clear to us whether anyone at a high level of government was aware of the information that Chris had gathered and provided to the FBI,” Simpson told legislators. “Chris suggested I give some information to Bruce, give him the background to all this.” Former FBI agent Peter Strzok testified before Congress that Ohr 'gave the FBI documents, which included material that I believe originated from Mr. Steele.'Strzok was fired from the FBI earlier this month after it was discovered that he exchanged text messages disparaging the president while he was heading up an investigation into Russian meddling in the election. Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS, and was involved in gathering information on Trump. How did Ohr’s name become public? Ohr was named in a memo prepared by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee headed by Rep. Devin Nunes, (R-California). The memo claims that Ohr misled a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court that had been asked to issue a warrant to monitor Carter Page, a Trump campaign operative. He misled them, Republicans say, by not disclosing what he knew about Steele. The Post reported, however, that Ohr “is not thought to have played a direct role in obtaining or renewing the warrant to monitor Page.” “Mr. Ohr is a career employee of the department. He was there when I arrived. To my knowledge, he wasn't working on the Russia matter,” Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein told the House Intelligence Committee in June. “When we learned of the relevant information, we arranged to transfer Mr. Ohr to a different office.” The FBI interviewed Ohr about his interactions with Steele. Those interviews are classified. What did the memo say about Ohr? According to the memo, Ohr and Steele communicated with each other both before and after Steele became an FBI source. Steele told Ohr that he was 'desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.' The memo claimed that while Ohr recorded Steele’s bias toward Trump, that information was “not reflected in any of the Page FISA applications.”  >>What is a FISA warrant? According to the memo, Ohr 'later provided the FBI with all of his wife's opposition research,” which was funded by the DNC and Clinton’s campaign. Ohr also said he and his wife’s relationship with Steele and Fusion were 'inexplicably concealed' from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the memo said. How is his wife Nellie involved? Nellie Ohr a former professor at Vassar College who became an independent research contractor working on projects having to do with Russian technology. Nellie Ohr worked for Fusion GPS during the 2016 election. According to Simpson in a court filing last year, Nellie Ohr worked for Fusion on 'research and analysis of Mr. Trump.” What happens next? Ohr, who was demoted from his job after it was discovered that he had communicated with Steele, is set for a closed-door hearing with the House Judiciary Committee on Aug. 28. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, (R-Virginia), chairman of the committee says he wants to talk to Nellie Ohr, as well. 

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