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El Faro crew was fatigued, inconsistently evaluated ahead of final voyage
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El Faro crew was fatigued, inconsistently evaluated ahead of final voyage

El Faro crew was fatigued, inconsistently evaluated ahead of final voyage
Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown

El Faro crew was fatigued, inconsistently evaluated ahead of final voyage

As part of the NTSB’s investigation of the sinking of El Faro, several groups were formed to examine specific factors, like engineering, meteorology, and more. 

Now, the Human Factors Group Chairman’s Factual Report has been released, focusing on many different aspects of personnel on and off the ship, including company oversight and training.   

FULL COVERAGE: The sinking of El Faro

El Faro went down in Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015, while heavily loaded and transiting from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico. All 33 people on board the cargo ship died. The NTSB participated in a series of Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation hearings to publicly question interested parties and vet evidence, but also conducted their own interviews. Both Boards are now working separately to put forward their full investigative findings, with the NTSB’s expected out later this year. 

As part of their ongoing investigation, the NTSB released several factual reports late last year. WOKV has taken a comprehensive look in to each one. 

Voyage Data Recorder Group Chairman’s Factual Report: Captain altered course twice, but denied two more changes recommended by crew

Engineering Group Chairman’s Factual Report: Boiler components were recommended for service, plant failed on final voyage

Electronic Data Group Chairman’s Factual Report: Gaps seen in weather data downloads, but cause unclear

Survival Factors Group Chairman’s Report: Open lifeboats allowed because of El Faro’s age, both were badly damaged with nobody on board

Meteorology Group Chairman’s Factual Report: Challenging storm led to substantial forecast track errors

This latest Report comes soon after four newly transcribed portions from El Faro’s Voyage Data Recorder- or black box- were released. The overall VDR transcription is the longest ever assembled by the NTSB, capturing more than 26 hours of audio and data leading up to the sinking.   

Credentialing, training, and evaluating the crew 

The Report says El Faro’s officers were all trained in compliance with Coast Guard and International Maritime Organization regulations, but the company managing the crewing- TOTE- did not require formal heavy-weather training courses because the Coast Guard didn’t require them. The Report says, since 2003, masters and chief mates have had to takes exams covering some aspects of heavy weather to get their credentials, but El Faro’s master got his before and was grandfathered in without needing to test those criteria. 

TOTE says informal heavy-weather training took place. The company did not have anyone dedicated to ship-specific training and records, rather that was overseen by various shoreside personnel, ship masters, and individual mariners. 

Senior officers on the ships were required to get annual performance reviews, and other officers and crew got evaluations at the end of each ten-week rotation or if they detached from a ship, according to TOTE policy. The investigation so far has found these were not always done on schedule, though. In fact, the second mate’s most recent evaluation was November 2011, and only incomplete draft evaluations were found for the captain and chief engineer. 

The Report goes in to detail on the performance evaluations on record for El Faro’s officers. By and large, the reviews show high marks. 

GALLERY: Tributes to the El Faro crew

The captain’s most recent evaluation was considered to be a draft by TOTE, and was partially completed October 2014. The port engineer scored the captain excellent- the highest mark- in all categories, except for “cooperation with technical manager”, which was blank. Comments on the evaluation included praise for the captain’s professionalism, saying that he “handles a diversified and unpredictable crew quite well”. This evaluation had not been signed by the captain or technical manager, nor had it been stamped by TOTE for formal receipt. 

The second mate’s most recent evaluation in her performance file was from November 2011, when she was a third mate. At that time, the evaluator said the company should aim to keep her long term. There was no performance evaluation in her file from her time as second mate. 

The chief engineer’s most recent evaluation on file was also from when he served a different role- first assistance engineer in July 2013. At that time, he got high scores, with comments about his good attitude and work ethic. There was a draft evaluation from October 2014 which dealt with him as a chief engineer and a partially complete evaluation from the same year, but it was not stamped for formal receipt. 

This chief mate was hailed as passionate and a good instructor. The third mate was a solid watch stander who had the knowledge and skills to advance. The first assistant engineer was marked “fair” in attention to duty, but was also on his first trip in a newly raised role. The second assistant engineer was praised as “one of the most dependable and hardest working men”. Third assistant engineer number one was valuable and highly reliable, number two was recommended in November 2014 to get better knowledge of the ship and equipment, and number three was new to the company- he joined El Faro the evening they left on what would become the final voyage.     

New position assignments 

At the time of El Faro’s final voyage, TOTE was heavily involved in launching new LNG ships to replace El Faro and her sister vessel on the Jacksonville-Puerto Rico route. Testimony and records examined by investigators show those decisions were causing hostility on board and leaving El Faro’s captain specifically questioning where he stood. 

For the first time, this Report shows El Faro captain’s prior employer- for whom he worked for a few years leading up to 2013- had raised some concerns about him. NTSB investigators requested his performance evaluations and related materials for the most recent two years, and found two letters of warning and a letter detailing a meeting between the captain and management. 

The Report says that meeting included discussing overtime for cargo operations, concern of unprofessional or disparaging remarks to non-vessel personnel by vessel officers, perception of the captain disassociating himself from daily activities, and perception of disharmony between the master and senior officers. One letter of warning listed two violations on accident reporting. 

“Any further incidents of policy infractions or poor job performance would cause us to have a loss of confidence in you as master within our fleet of vessels,” the letter says, according to the Report. 

The other warning letter said the captain failed to notify management of cargo damage. That letter stated that the captain had already been warned more severe disciplinary action could be coming, including termination. The captain submitted his letter of resignation in the month that followed that letter. 

Correspondence from TOTE officials who were vetting the captain to potentially lead one of the new LNG vessels also showed concerns about the captain’s performance. Emails read during the public hearings show one official had “dwindling confidence” in the captain, and another described him as a “stateroom Captain”- although he later testified that was a stylistic difference, but that he was still an “effective” captain. 

Emails show the captain received a verbal warning from TOTE for welding repairs that weren’t carried out, but there were no letters of warning or reprimand on his file with that company. 

GALLERY: NTSB Factual Reports exhibits

The crewing decisions were causing friction on board, according to the testimony of off-duty crew and crew spouses. None of TOTE’s captains were selected for the new vessels at the time, although El Faro’s captain was later brought in for another interview for reconsideration, and it was decided he would be offered the job. Before the captain was informed of that decision, though, TOTE learned about an incident involving a potential violation of the company’s no-tolerance alcohol policy by an El Faro crew member, but it was not well documented. The company postponed their final decision on the new vessel, and communications from the captain in the days before the sinking indicate he still didn’t have a clear picture what would happen. 

The captain himself indicated in communications that he had also not gotten any information from TOTE on why he wasn’t chosen for a new vessel on the first pass, and he believed he was improving the culture on TOTE vessels- including helping a ship after drug and Customs issues. There was conflicting testimony whether El Faro’s captain would have been asked to stay on with the vessel when it transitioned to the Alaskan trade, as planned. 

There was also friction among the rest of the crew over the decisions about the new vessels. While there were non-disclosure agreements for those selected for the new ships, testimony from some crew members showed there was discontent among those who were not selected.     

Corporate responsibilities 

El Faro was owned by TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico and operated by TOTE Services- both under the umbrella of TOTE Inc. 

TMPR was previously Sea Star Line, and during a reorganization under that name in 2012-2013, there were some positions that were cut, including port captains. Port captains used to oversee vessel operations along with the port engineer. Another part of the reorganization included relocating more personnel to Jacksonville. 

TOTE testified that the reorganization didn’t have a negative impact on the shoreside support they provided to ships, but the Report notes there was some conflicting testimony from others about the actual implications. 

The Report says TOTE had considered hiring more employees to specifically assist the Manager of Safety and Operations because of his “extensive duties”, but that didn’t happen ahead of the sinking, and that person continued to carry all of the work. By early 2017, testimony showed some of the responsibilities had been reallocated across other existing employees. The Director of Marine Safety and Services also testified that his time was increasingly focused on TOTE’s new LNG ships, and there was no formal reassignment of the other responsibilities on his plate. 

AUDIO: El Faro’s captain describes marine emergency in final shoreside contact

When El Faro was in distress and later determined to have sunk, but the search for possible survivors was still ongoing, there was an emergency response team stood up. The Report notes testimony from the Vice President of Marine Operations- who was on that team- saying he didn’t know the specific duties of the members of the team. The emergency response team would run scenarios as practice, but none specific to heavy weather, according to NTSB interviews with team members. 

While the phone number for the Designate Person- a TOTE official available at all hours for any emergencies or needs on the ship- was posted throughout the ship per the Safety Management System, the only company-provided phone on board was on the bridge. That led to questions in the public hearings about whether safety concerns on board could truly be reported anonymously- since there were always people on watch on the bridge. 

There was also an online reporting tool, with information posted on the ship, although an internet connection would be required to use the site. Crew were also not prohibited from having their own cell phones, but connection would be difficult at sea.     

Safety on board 

TOTE- like other shipping companies- is required to have a safety management system that defines the responsibilities of personnel, safe practice for ship operation, and safeguards against certain risks. 

Internal audits of the SMS and International Safety Management code were required at least every 12 months, to be completed by TOTE’s Designated Person. External audits also took place by the ship’s surveyor, the American Bureau of Shipping. El Faro’s most recent internal audit was submitted to the company in June 2015. The DP says he was satisfied the crew knew the SMS, and the SMS itself appeared to be well implemented and documented. 

Investigators also reviewed minutes from safety meetings that took place on board. The SMS required monthly safety and security meetings on the ship, and El Faro’s most recent was toward the end of September 2015. 

Two human factors influencing safety on board are pace of operations and crew fatigue. 

TOTE’s competitor, Horizon Lines, downsized in 2012 and completely stopped operations on the Jacksonville-Puerto Rico route in late 2014. TOTE picked up more business as a result, and used barges to supplement the existing ships to carry the increased volume of cargo. Turnover notes showed the cargo load on board was “continually heavy”, according to the Report. 

The Report says El Faro’s captain was known to be able to maintain his schedule, even though TOTE says ship personnel didn’t know that was something they tracked. There was also testimony from a few different sources saying the company didn’t pressure the crew to keep to arrival times, although a company official admitted in testimony that the owners would get incentives for keeping the ships on schedule. 

GALLERY: El Faro’s Voyage Data Recorder recovered

The Report says El Faro’s officers were under contract to work 12 hours a day while on the vessel. While the hours for the sinking voyage aren’t available because they were on board, records for two two-week periods just ahead of the sinking show officers logging on average 13 hour days and 12.5 hour days. SIU crew members worked an average of 10.9 hour- and 13 hour-work days in those same time frames, with the Report indicating they were on overtime past an eight hour day. 

The captain was required to track work and rest hours to ensure they were in compliance with regulations. Testimony was unclear on who in the company would then further verify, although the Designated Person said every crew member was also responsible for tracking themselves. 

The mates would generally get a little relief in port, when a port mate would help oversee cargo loading operations. Records show a port mate was not used in Jacksonville in the final days of El Faro, though. Work/rest records for El Faro’s third mate show four violations in the final two months. 

“The chief engineer told his wife that he was exhausted from all the maintenance and issues he had in the weeks leading to the accident, stating that it was the worst tour he had been on in terms of maintenance issues,” says the Report, citing an interview done with the chief engineer’s wife. 

Interviews with friends of the second mate showed she also complained of fatigue and used over-the-counter medication to help get sleep. Testimony and the VDR transcript also spoke about a former chief mate who had fallen asleep while on watch. Further, the captain had worked a normal ten-week shift that ended July 14th, but was called back after only four weeks off because his relief had resigned.   

Operating in severe weather 

El Faro used the Bon Voyage System as one of their primary weather systems. The system would map weather conditions along with sea conditions, for a ship to use as guidance for routing. The investigation in to the sinking so far has shown a one-time glitch in BVS led to an outdated forecast track being sent to El Faro on their final voyage, but the larger questions that have emerged include whether all of those who needed to use the system were fully trained and if anyone other than the captain could access all of the needed information. 

The Report says there is no evidence BVS users on El Faro had any formal training. Rather, prior deck officers who testified said training was on the job, with manuals and guides readily available. 

The captain was heard on El Faro’s VDR expressing some difficulty with the consistently changing track of Joaquin, although he also stated he believed they would just get around it. The captain did also make some course changes on the fatal voyage, in an effort to ensure they would skirt the storm. 

The BVS system sent the data packages to the captain’s stateroom, and he had to download it to send to the bridge, according to the Report. This addresses another frequent question from investigators during the hearings, which is whether the crew was able to get this information directly on the bridge, even without the captain- it appears that was not the case. While the Report says most data packets were downloaded and sent to the bridge by the captain within an hour of them being received, the packet sent to the ship at 11PM the night ahead of the sinking wasn’t downloaded for five hours and 41 minutes, or 4:45AM the morning of the sinking 

TOTE’s SMS did not have many specific procedures for heavy weather, except that the ship’s master monitor and analyze weather along the ship’s track and take proper precautions. Additionally, the chief mate needed to ensure watertight hatches and doors were secure, but there was no outline on how that would be verified, according to the Report. 

GALLERY: El Faro’s wreckage

If the captain needed to slow the ship’s speed or change course because of weather, he was required to tell company headquarters. There was an email from El Faro’s captain shown during the public hearings that indicated he was seeking approval to change his route on what would have been the return trip on the fatal voyage, rather than just informing the company of the change. Several TOTE officials repeatedly testified to investigators that permission was not needed, and they were unsure why the captain would have sought it. Rather, they said the captain was empowered to make decisions about voyage planning and vessel operations. There were additionally other communications presented which showed the captain informing TOTE of changes as a “professional courtesy”, and even in the email where he appears to seek permission to take an alternate return route, he also told the company he had adjusted his immediate route further to the south to try to get around the storm. 

There were no alerts from the company sent about the system that developed in to Hurricane Joaquin, or Tropical Storm Erika before that. TOTE had sent vessels a safety alert about Hurricane Danny earlier that summer, but told investigators the intent there was as a general advisory about the start of the hurricane season and need to review heavy weather procedures. 

During Erika, the Report says a TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico employee in Jacksonville did send an email to some shoreside personnel and three captains with details on the Coast Guard preparations for a port closure. A captain later replied some of the steps he was taking because of the storm, and the next day the Designated Person asked the captain for a detailed list of preparedness/avoidance plans and daily updates. The Report says there was no such initial contact or follow up request made during El Faro’s final voyage, but the ship’s captain did send his avoidance strategy to shoreside staff. 

Nobody in TOTE was specifically assigned to monitor ships while at sea.   

Polish riding gang 

Part of the SMS includes that all members of a riding gang are given a full tour of the vessel. El Faro had a Polish riding gang on board on her final voyage, working specifically on preparing the ship to convert to the Alaska trade. 

The training logs associated with the riding gang were on El Faro, so not available for the investigation. A Polish worker who was on the ship in the weeks ahead of the final voyage did tell investigators that they immediately went to the captain’s office to fill out forms after boarding the ship, and they did get a tour. He did not remember any safety briefing, had not been taken to the lifeboats to see what to do in an emergency, had not put on a lifejacket while on board, and did not know what the ship’s emergency signals were. He further testified that the Polish riding gang didn’t participate in drills, and instead, kept working. Statements from wives of some of the Polish riding gang further reinforced that they did not go through safety training. 

The wives did say the gang thought highly of the off-duty chief engineer who was assigned as their supervisor. 

There were no orientation documents or safety signage provided in the Polish language, and there was substantial testimony that showed most of the workers who had cycled through spoke little or no English- although the Report notes it’s not clear about the fluency of the workers on the final voyage specifically. One of the workers would act as the unofficial interpreter, according to testimony. 

“It is not clear whether the Polish riding gang understood the safety procedures,” the Report says. 

Wives of some of the Polish riding gang members also gave more insight of the conditions on the ship. 

“You can’t even imagine this old rust bucket I have to board,” one of the workers said, according to a transcript of an interview with his wife.   

Looking ahead 

The NTSB is expecting to release two more factual reports in the coming weeks- the Nautical Operations Group Factual Report and Naval Architecture Factual Report. WOKV will continue to work through the new information and add context from the ongoing investigations, as those documents are released. 

NTSB INVESTIGATION: Factual reports examine aspects of ship operations and sinking

The NTSB has already issued ten safety recommendations as a result of their work so far, saying they didn’t want to wait until completion because of the start of hurricane season. The recommendations encourage action on a few ket areas in order to improve the safety of mariners at sea.

The full NTSB report is expected out later this year.

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His illness was linked to one reported earlier this week involving a 57-year-old woman who had no history of recent travel to China. Officials said 47 people who have been diagnosed with coronavirus in Singapore have since recovered and been released from hospitals. Lebanon, Israel confirm 1st coronavirus cases Update 10 a.m. EST Feb. 21: Health officials in Lebanon and Israel announced Friday the first confirmed coronavirus cases in the countries. Lebanon’s health minister, Hamad Hassan, said Friday that a 45-year-old woman tested positive for coronavirus after entering the country from Iran, Reuters reported. She was being quarantined Friday at a hospital in Beirut, according to Reuters. The Jerusalem Post reported an Israeli who returned to the country Thursday after being evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship has tested positive for the virus. The coronavirus case marked the first in Israel, though health officials noted the passenger had contracted virus while in Japan. Earlier this month, thousands of people were quarantined on the Diamond Princess, docked off the coast of Japan, due to coronavirus fears. Hundreds of people on the ship ended up testing positive for the viral infection. South Korea reports 2nd coronavirus death  Update 9 a.m. EST Feb. 21: Officials in South Korea reported the country’s second death due to coronavirus Friday, The Washington Post reported. Citing the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Post reported a woman in her 50s died after testing positive for the virus Friday at Daenam Hospital. She was transferred to a bigger hospital in Busan, where she died around 6 p.m., according to the newspaper. The death marked the second related to COVID-19 in South Korea. On Wednesday, a 63-year-old patient died after suffering symptoms of pneumonia in what was suspected to be the country’s first coronavirus death, according to The New York Times. Iran confirms 18 cases, 4 deaths Update 7:50 a.m. EST Feb. 21: Iranian officials confirmed on Friday that 13 new cases of the novel coronavirus have been diagnosed and two additional patients have died. Friday’s figures bring Iran’s total number of infections to 18 and the death toll from the virus to four, CNN reported. “According to the latest laboratory reports 13 more contractions of coronavirus have been confirmed, including 7 in Qom, 4 in Tehran, and two in Gilan. Unfortunately, out of these cases two have lost their lives,' health ministry spokesman Kianoosh Jahanpour tweeted Friday. 3 novel coronavirus cases confirmed in Italy Update 7:32 a.m. EST Feb. 21: Italy confirmed its first novel coronavirus cases Friday, noting three people in a city near Milan have tested positive for the illness. According to The Washington Post, the first patient to contract the virus was a 38-year-old man in the northern region of Lombardy, who fell ill after dining with a friend who had recently returned from China. The man then passed the illness on to his wife and a close friend. All three patients have been hospitalized, the Post reported. Confirmed novel coronavirus cases, fatalities continue to increase globally Update 6:46 a.m. EST Feb. 21: Globally, more than 76,900 novel coronavirus cases have been reported, according to the latest figures released Friday morning by health officials in China. Although the majority of cases – around 75,600 – remain clustered in mainland China, more than 1,300 cases have been confirmed in 29 countries, CNN reported. Meanwhile, 118 additional deaths were confirmed in mainland China Friday, with the global death toll reaching 2,247, the network reported. Vaccine nearing clinical trials in China Update 6:44 a.m. EST Feb. 21: Xu Nanping, China’s vice minister of Science and Technology, told reporters Friday that Chinese researchers expect to submit the first COVID-19 vaccine for clinical trials around late April. The status update comes roughly one month after Chinese officials established a coronavirus scientific research group, consisting of 14 experts led by renowned pulmonologist Zhong Nanshan, The Washington Post reported. “One month is a very short time for scientific research, but a very long time for patients struggling with the disease. The scientific and technological community nationwide will put the safety of people’s lives and health first and spare no effort to continue to produce tangible and effective scientific research results,” Xu told reporters during the briefing. Protesters attack Wuhan evacuee bus in Ukraine; 9 police officers, 1 civilian injured Update 6:42 a.m. EST Feb. 21: The Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs said nine police officers and one civilian were injured Thursday when protesters attacked a bus carrying evacuees from Wuhan, China. According to CNN, protesters had blocked roads in Noviy Sanzhari, the town where the evacuees are to be monitored for two weeks at a medical facility belonging to the Ukrainian National Guard. “Those people who today threw stones at the evacuees of Ukrainians and law enforcement officers ... We will make a decision on their punishment,” said Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, confirming one officer was seriously injured in the incident instigated by “aggressive citizens,” the network reported. South Korean coronavirus infections continue to increase Update 3:46 a.m. EST Feb. 21: The number of confirmed novel coronavirus infections in South Korea increased to 204 on Friday, nearly doubling in 24 hours and almost quadrupling in three days, the South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed in a statement issued early Friday. Health officials believe the majority of the new cases are connected to a church in Daegu, a city of about two and half million people in the southeastern region of the country. Specifically, 42 of the newest cases reported Friday have been traced to the church called Shincheonji. The country also reported on Thursday what officials believe could be South Korea’s first fatality from the virus. The 63-year-old woman exhibiting symptoms of pneumonia died Wednesday at the Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, The New York Times reported. Prison outbreaks boost novel coronavirus cases in mainland China Update 3:43 a.m. EST Feb. 21: More than 500 novel coronavirus cases have been confirmed in prisons across China, including 271 cases – 51 of which had been counted in previous tallies – in Hubei province, CNN reported. Meanwhile, officials announced in a joint news conference on Friday that of the 2,077 prisoners and staff at Rencheng prison in China’s eastern Shandong province tested for the virus, 200 prisoners and seven staff members tested positive. Zhejiang province announced 34 prison cases on Friday, bringing the correctional total to 512, CNN reported. Canada records its 9th confirmed novel coronavirus case, 6th in British Columbia Update 3:41 a.m. EST Feb. 21: British Columbia’s Ministry of Health confirmed Friday a woman in her 30s has become the province’s sixth diagnosed case of novel coronavirus and the ninth for Canada. According to the statement, the woman had recently returned from Iran and is being isolated at home while public health officials identify and contact those people with whom she had contact upon returning Meanwhile, 47 of the 256 Canadian passengers aboard the beleaguered Diamond Princess cruise ship – moored off the coast of Japan – have tested positive for the virus. All 256 will be subject to a 14-day quarantine in Ontario once their evacuations are complete, CNN reported. 11 of 13 people evacuated to Omaha test positive for COVID-19  Update 11 p.m. EST Feb. 20: Federal experts confirmed that 11 of 13 people evacuated to an Omaha hospital from a cruise ship in Japan have tested positive for COVID-19, Nebraska officials announced Thursday night. The University of Nebraska Medical Center said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had verified test results completed Monday by the Nebraska Public Health Lab. Ten of those people are being cared for at the National Quarantine Unit while three are in the nearby Nebraska Biocontainment Unit. The medical center said only a few of the patients were showing symptoms of the disease. All 13 people were passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship who were evacuated to the U.S. on Feb. 17. China reports fall in new virus cases, 118 deaths  Update 10 p.m. EST Feb. 20: China reported a further fall in new virus cases to 889 as health officials expressed optimism over containment of the outbreak that has caused more than 2,200 deaths and is spreading elsewhere.  New infections in China have been falling for days, although changes in how it counts cases have caused doubts about the true trajectory of the epidemic.  China’s figures for the previous 24 hours brought the total number of cases to 75,465. The 118 newly reported deaths raised the total to 2,236. More than 1,000 cases and 11 deaths have been confirmed outside the mainland. 4 Americans who tested positive for COVID-19 sent to hospital in Spokane, Washington  Update 7:30 p.m. EST Feb. 20: Four Americans who tested positive for the new virus that caused an outbreak China are being sent to a hospital in Spokane, Washington, for treatment, officials said Thursday.  The four were passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and were flown back to the U.S. over the weekend, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services. They were being transferred from Travis Air Force Base in California, hospital officials said.  Two patients arrived at the hospital Thursday in satisfactory condition with two more expected soon, said Christa Arguinchona, who manages a special isolation unit at Sacred Heart Medical Center. The hospital is one of 10 in the nation funded by Congress to treat new or highly infectious diseases.  “The risk to the community from this particular process is zero,” said Bob Lutz of the Spokane Regional Health District at a briefing Thursday at the hospital. WHO: ‘This is no time for complacency’ Update 2:25 p.m. EST Feb. 20: World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday that recent declines in the number of new coronavirus cases being reported in China were encouraging, but he warned, “this is no time for complacency.” As pf 6 a.m. Geneva time Thursday, 74,675 people in China and 1,076 people in order parts of the world had been sickened by coronavirus, according to WHO. Officials said 2,121 people in China and seven people outside of the country have died thus far of the viral infection. 'This is the time to attack the virus while it is manageable,” Tedros said, according to The Washington Post. “You will get sick of me saying that the window of opportunity remains open for us to contain this COVID-19 outbreak.” CDC warns travels to take precautions for travel to Japan, Hong Kong Update 12:20 p.m. EST Feb. 20: The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new coronavirus-related travel advisories Thursday for Americans visiting Japan or Hong Kong. The advisories warned travelers to avoid contact with sick people, avoid touching their eyes, noses or mouths with their unwashed hands and recommended using soap and water often to wash hands for at least 20 seconds. Officials said Thursday that it remained unnecessary to postpone or cancel trips to Japan or Hong Kong due to the virus. However, the CDC advisories noted “multiple instances of community spread' in both locales, meaning people “have been infected with the virus, but how or where they became infected is not known.” Officials with the CDC previously issued an advisory warning travelers to avoid non-essential travel to China. According to Japanese health officials, authorities have seen 73 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the country. One person in Japan has died of the viral infection. Health official in Hong Kong have confirmed 65 cases of coronavirus. Japan reports 12 new coronavirus cases, Singapore confirms 1 more  Update 11 a.m. EST Feb. 20: Officials in Japan have reported a dozen new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, CNN reported, citing the Japanese health ministry. The new cases include two government officials who worked on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, according to CNN. Thousands of people were quarantined on the ship for two weeks as it was docked off the coast of Japan due to coronavirus fears. Hundreds of people on the ship ended up testing positive for the viral infection.  Officials with the Singapore Ministry of Health said Thursday that a new case of coronavirus had been confirmed in the country. The case, involving a 36-year-old Chinese national who was in Singapore on a work pass, is the 85th reported in Singapore.  Global death toll hits 2,126  Update 7:40 a.m. EST Feb. 20: More than 2,120 people have died globally and thousands of others have fallen ill due to the 2019 novel coronavirus, according to multiple reports.  At least 2,126 people globally have died from coronavirus, CNN reported Thursday. A majority of the deaths have been reported in China, where health officials announced 114 more deaths and 394 more confirmed cases of the illness. Overall, 75,730 coronavirus cases have been reported worldwide, including 74,576 in China, according to CNN.
  • There’s a new initiative to make hotels in Jacksonville safer. City Councilman Danny Becton has been instrumental in getting the ball rolling, and he says the Tourism Industry and Public Safety Alliance is the result of more than a year’s worth of work. “TIPSA will operate as an exclusive network that will work on the basis of if you see something say something,” Becton says. The alliance will have three components. Organizers plan to implement basic standard across all hotels. They’ll improve communication and access to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Lastly, participating hotels will join a WhatsApp thread to communication between each other and police. So far 30 hotels around Jacksonville have signed up with the number continuing to climb, and Becton says they’re also keeping an eye on the hotels that aren’t involved yet. “We’re going to put pressure on them right now to participate and not be part of the problem,” Becton says. Some of the changes are as simple as checking guest IDs and standardizing payment procedures for everyone involved.
  • On Friday, Jacksonville’s Downtown Investment Authority gave the green light to develop the land where the old courthouse and annex used to stand. Right now, two lots on prime riverfront property are empty. One lot sits behind the Hyatt. The other lot is right on the water next to the Berkman Plaza.  The DIA signed off on the Spandrel Group’s $136 million vision called the Ford on Bay.  There would be restaurants, lofts, retail space and a lot of pedestrian space built in two phases. The first phase would happen on the property right on the water. The second phase involves the lot next door, but there’s a catch – the Hyatt has the right of first refusal to buy the land. If it doesn’t, Spandrel can get the land and start phase two.  Action News Jax’s Paige Kelton drove by the lots today and found signs that development could soon be in the works.  Fences were up around the property Friday.  Spandrel wants the city to give it the property to develop. That aspect is still being worked out.  The Jacksonville City Council must still sign off on the referendum approved by the DIA.
  • A new push is underway in St. Augustine to honor and recognize African American soldiers who fought in the Civil War. A group is spearheading a new project to put the memorial next to a Confederate statue.  Many neighbors support the idea, but not the placement.  The memorial would be in the park on the westside of the Governor’s House Cultural Center and Museum.  St. Augustine’s Historic Architectural review board is asking a University of Florida board to get input from neighbors and relatives of black soldiers.  “To me it’s like a slap in the face with that,” said business owner Nyk Smith.  Smith works at her family corner store in historic Lincolnville.  “The placement of that new statue that they’re talking about, yea sure, that’s great down there but definitely not next to the confederate monument,” said Smith.  St. Augustine’s Historic Review Board said the memorial to honor black troops who fought in the civil war will stand next to the monument of Confederate General William Loring and his ashes.  The board said the memorial will be about 8 feet tall with three granite panels.  It will list names of local men who served in what was then called the colored troops.  “They need to remove the monument and put it in the cemetery where it belongs,” said Smith.  “Hopefully something like this with them hearing what black people are thinking and feeling they would be moved to do some action,” Mclain said.  The board will now wait until April 16 to decide whether or not to move forward with the new memorial.
  • After the discovery of human remains this week at a construction site near I-295 and North Main Street as well as on a private property off of Eastport Road where soil was being transferred from, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has released a major update. According to JSO, excavation crews uncovered a marked headstone late Thursday. Police say the headstone was found to have a name and a military rank inscribed on it. After this find, JSO says the excavation operations were stopped to ensure that the remains were handled in a sensitive and appropriate manner. That includes working to track down any living family members.  JSO says the site has been confirmed as a documented cemetery according to the Work Progress Administration Veteran's Grave Registration for 1940-1941 in Duval County.  Additionally, police say there was other evidence found at the site that is consistent with grave burials, including nails, wood, metal, and handles. Police say the rest of the remains will now be handled by state officials and affiliated experts.

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