ON AIR NOW

LISTEN NOW

Weather

cloudy-day
53°
Mostly Cloudy
H 66° L 48°
  • cloudy-day
    53°
    Current Conditions
    Mostly Cloudy. H 66° L 48°
  • cloudy-day
    50°
    Morning
    Mostly Cloudy. H 66° L 48°
  • cloudy-day
    62°
    Afternoon
    Mostly Cloudy. H 67° L 59°
LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

The latest top stories

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

The latest traffic report

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

The latest forecast

00:00 | 00:00

Local
El Faro-inspired maritime safety bill clear House Committee
Close

El Faro-inspired maritime safety bill clear House Committee

El Faro-inspired maritime safety bill clear House Committee
Photo Credit: NTSB
The NTSB released video footage of their survey of El Faro's wreckage.

El Faro-inspired maritime safety bill clear House Committee

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.

Read More
VIEW COMMENTS

The Latest News Headlines

  • The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is asking for your help tracking down an armed robbery suspect who they consider armed and dangerous. The suspect is 20-year-old Jebre Cook, who’s described as 5’9” and 174 lbs. Police say you should not approach him, because he is considered armed and dangerous.  JSO has not said what armed robbery incident they believe Cook is responsible for. If you know anything about Cook’s location, you’re asked to contact JSO at 911 or 904-630-0500, or JSOCrimeTips@jaxsheriff.org. You can also submit an anonymous tip and be eligible for a possible $3,000 reward by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.
  • The Trump administration moved Tuesday to ban bump stocks -- devices that can make semi-automatic firearms fire at a rate similar to automatic weapons -- under a federal law that also bans machine guns, Justice Department officials said in a news release. >> Read more trending news Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said authorities amended a regulation on Tuesday to include bump stocks in the definition of “machinegun” under federal law. The regulation will go into effect 90 days after it’s formally published in the Federal Register, a move expected to come Friday, according to The Associated Press. >> Read the final rule White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a news briefing Tuesday that people who have bump stocks will be required to turn the devices over to officials at field offices for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or destroy them by March 21. >> What is a bump stock, how does it work and is it legal? Hours after Whitaker announced the move, opponents of the decision said they planned to fight the change. >> From Cox Media Group’s Jamie Dupree: Trump ban on ‘bump stocks’ to face immediate legal challenge The ban was expected after the Justice Department earlier this year proposed a rule to classify bump stocks and similar devices as prohibited under federal law. >> Trump administration expected to announce gun bump stock ban Trump issued a memorandum in the wake of February’s deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, ordering the attorney general to “propose for notice and comment a rule banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machineguns,” according to Justice Department officials. Authorities reviewed more than 186,000 public comments as part of the review process. The Justice Department opened a review of the devices in the wake of the 2017 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas that left nearly 60 people dead. Authorities said a gunman had bump stocks equipped to several weapons on Oct. 1, 2017, when he fired on festivalgoers.
  • A 20-year-old Jacksonville man has been arrested after allegedly kidnapping a woman at gunpoint, raping her, and stealing her car. The arrest report for Billy Gaines says he first approached the victim late Sunday at a gas station on Lem Turner Road, where he put a gun to her back and told her to get in the car. JSO says they drove off, but at one point he stopped the car and raped her in the back seat, while he was still holding the gun. The victim reported that they then went to the home of a friend of Gaines, and she then told Gaines something that led him to drive her to another location, according to the arrest report. At that location, police say the victim went inside, called police, and did not come back out. Gaines allegedly fled in the victim’s vehicle. Early Sunday, a patrol Sergeant searching for the suspect saw a vehicle matching the description, while on Golfair Blvd near I-95. JSO says Gaines sped up and took evasive actions. Several marked vehicles continued to pursue him, and he was ultimately stopped in a vacant lot. Gaines allegedly fled on foot from that point, but was caught soon after. He has been arrested for armed sexual battery, kidnapping, carjacking with a firearm, fleeing law enforcement, and resisting an officer without violence.
  • Hours after the Trump Administration signaled that it would administratively move to ban ‘bump stocks,’ which allow semi-automatic weapons to be fired at a much more rapid rate, lawmakers in both parties said it was time for the Congress to enact those regulations into law, as opponents of the decision vowed to immediately challenge the President’s plan in court. “We will be filing our lawsuit very, very soon,” the Gun Owners of America said in a written statement. “After all, in the coming days, an estimated half a million bump stock owners will have the difficult decision of either destroying or surrendering their valuable property – or else risk felony prosecution,” the group added. At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that is the plan, making clear that bump stocks will be illegal as of March 21, 2019. On banning bump stocks, Sanders says people have until March 2019 to turn them in or have them destroyed. Says they fall under same guidelines as machine guns. — Dana Brown Ritter (@danabrownritter) December 18, 2018 “A 90 period now begins which persons in possession of bump stock type devices must turn those devices to an ATF field office, or destroy them by March 21,” Sanders said at the White House briefing. Justice Department officials told reporters on Tuesday that bump stocks will be administratively banned by using language from a federal law which prohibits machine guns. There was no immediate comment from the National Rifle Association on whether that group would join in legal action against bump stocks as well. In Congress, lawmakers in both parties said while the President’s step is overdue, the House and Senate should also vote to codify the bump stock ban. “This is good news, but it is just one small step toward stopping mass shootings,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH). “We must do far more to prevent gun violence.” “There’s no justification for bump stocks that transform semi-automatic weapons into machine guns,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). A regulation – not a law – is finally being issued to ban bump stocks. This is welcome news. But the country shouldn’t have had to wait a year+ after Vegas to get the most basic regulation. It’s testament to how hard we’ll need to fight to get the comprehensive gun safety we need https://t.co/LgjgBcAhxv — Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) December 18, 2018 “The President seems to be more interested in making headlines than making progress,” said Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV). “We know that his proposal will likely be tied up in the courts.” 58 people were killed in Titus’ district in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017, when a gunman opened fire on an outdoor concert, using ‘bump stocks’ to allow him to shoot more ammunition more quickly, in what was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States. “Finally and should be codified,” said Rep. Carlos Cubelo (R-FL), one of the few Republicans who has called for action on bump stocks in Congress.
  • A Texas 19-year-old has been charged with killing a young mother in a violent crash Sunday night as she drove with her toddler son and her mother.  Erick Raphael Hernandez, of Pearland, was charged Monday with intoxication manslaughter in the death of 23-year-old Taylor Phillips, court records show. As of Tuesday morning, he had been released from the Harris County Jail on $30,000 bond.  >> Read more trending news ABC 13 in Houston reported that Phillips was driving an SUV with her mother and 1-year-old son inside when Hernandez crossed three lanes of traffic on a South Houston street and slammed into Phillips’ vehicle with his truck.   The entire crash was caught on a security camera outside a nearby auto repair shop, the news station said. The grainy footage, seen below, appears to show Hernandez’s truck smash into the front driver’s side of Phillips’ SUV. The impact flings debris across the roadway.  Phillips died at the scene.  Her son and 48-year-old mother were hospitalized with serious, but not life-threatening, injuries. The victims’ family told ABC 13 both have since been released to recover at home.  Phillips’ social media profile is filled with photos of her son, who celebrated his first birthday in August.   “Sometimes when I need a miracle, I look into my son’s eyes and realize I’ve already created one,” Phillips wrote on Facebook alongside a photo of her son in October. In another post, she wrote that she had waited for the love of her son her entire life and would “cherish it forever.” Phillips also often mentioned a sister, Tyré Rai Sai Phillips, on her Facebook page. According to the Houston Police Department, Tyré Phillips was an innocent bystander at a party on April 14, 2013, when multiple fights broke out, during which shots were fired.  Tyré Phillips, who was killed as she sought safety, died a week after her 19th birthday. It was not immediately clear if an arrest has ever been made in her slaying.  Court records obtained by ABC 13 indicated that Hernandez was drinking at a bar with a cousin before Sunday’s deadly crash. The legal drinking age in Texas is 21.  Hernandez, whose appears intoxicated in his mugshot, had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and was off-balance after the crash, the news station said. When questioned at the scene, Hernandez admitted he drank a few beers.  “Based on his field sobriety tests, it was a lot more than a few,” Sean Teare, a member of the Harris County District Attorney’s Vehicular Crimes Unit, told The Houston Chronicle. Teare told the Chronicle that investigators had learned where Hernandez had been drinking prior to the crash. ABC 13 identified the bar as Frontera Events Venue, which is located about a mile from the crash site.  “Obviously, at 19 he shouldn’t be drinking anywhere,” Teare told the newspaper.  ABC 13 reported that the court records indicate Hernandez had been drinking since 6 p.m. Sunday but could not remember when he’d had his last drink. A fake ID and bar receipt were found in his car after the crash.  “We believe that he spent well over $100 at the bar drinking alcohol that day,” Teare told the news station.  The district attorney’s office is now investigating the bar to determine if workers there overserved Hernandez. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission records indicate Frontera, which obtained its license in October 2017, has had six complaints filed against it this year involving alcohol being in the hands of underage individuals. One of those complaints, in which a violation was not found, involved employing someone under the age of 18 to sell or handle alcohol. The remaining five complaints dealt with selling or serving alcohol to minors and serving alcohol to someone already intoxicated. Three of the five complaints were substantiated, the records show. One of the three substantiated claims also included the sale of drugs by the licensee.  Teare told ABC 13 that Frontera’s owner and employees could face charges related to the fatal crash.  “If an establishment, if a server sees somebody who is intoxicated, they’ve got to stop serving,” Teare said. “They’ve got to take steps to ensure that person doesn’t leave their establishment and kill people.” The district attorney’s office is also considering action to shut the bar’s doors for good.  “I just know that a 19-year-old individual came out of that establishment highly intoxicated and moments later took a 23-year-old's life,” Teare told ABC 13. “That shouldn’t happen. Someone in addition to that 19-year-old is going to have to answer for that.”

The Latest News Videos