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El Faro investigation prompts NTSB to issue safety recommendations ahead of final report
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El Faro investigation prompts NTSB to issue safety recommendations ahead of final report

El Faro investigation prompts NTSB to issue safety recommendations ahead of final report
The eye of Hurricane Joaquin is visible in the lower left corner of this image taken from the International Space Station Oct. 2, 2015

El Faro investigation prompts NTSB to issue safety recommendations ahead of final report

While their larger investigation of the El Faro sinking is still ongoing, the NTSB has issued ten new recommendations as a result of their work so far, to encourage immediate action on mariner safety

“We are getting these recommendations out as the hurricane season begins so that the work on these safety improvements can start immediately,” says a statement from NTSB Acting Chairman Robert L Sumwalt. 

The goal of the recommendations is to improve the accuracy of hurricane and tropical cyclone forecasts and to make them more accessible at sea.

FULL COVERAGE:The sinking of El Faro

Two of the recommendations have been issued to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, seven to the National Weather Service, and one to the US Coast Guard, with the NTSB urging the organizations to adopt them. 

The NTSB acknowledges that, generally, safety recommendations are issued at the end of an investigation, but can be put out at any time.

NTSB INVESTIGATION: Details from the NTSB’s Investigative Reports

The Board has been investigating the sinking of El Faro since late 2015, which included participating in three Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation public hearing sessions as well as producing the longest transcript of a Voyage Data Recorder- or “black box”- that the NTSB has ever completed. 

33 people died when the cargo ship out of Jacksonville sank in Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015. During his final shoreside communication, El Faro’s Captain reported the ship had lost propulsion and taken on water, resulting in a fifteen degree list.

AUDIO: El Faro’s Captain reports “marine emergency”

The VDR transcript- which included conversations from the bridge- showed the engineers were struggling to get things running again and containers were coming loose.

FULL DETAILS: El Faro’s VDR captures final moments ahead of El Faro’s sinking

The investigation so far has raised questions about how the cargo was secured and the condition of the ship in the area that water came on board. We’ve also learned the vessel had some outdated weather information in the hours ahead of the sinking, didn’t receive all communications, and that the forecasting errors on Hurricane Joaquin itself were more significant than normal.  

The end of the VDR did capture the Captain calling to abandon ship, but none of the crew were ever recovered. 

GALLERY: Tributes to the El Faro crew

The NTSB expects to complete their investigation of the sinking later this year, which will include a finding of probable cause and contributing factors to the sinking. The Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation will also issue its own separate report. 

Recommendations to NOAA

The NTSB Safety Recommendation Report discusses the challenges in forecasting Hurricane Joaquin, with the National Hurricane Center reporting it as one of the most challenging storms for forecast track. Part of the problem, according to testimony during the MBI, was the shear environment- which was moderate. One of the recommendations is to develop and implement a plan to improve forecasting track and intensity in such a moderate-shear environment. The NTSB report says there was a NOAA program which included this goal, but they have recently moved away from this type of research.

A second recommendation is to develop and implement technology to help National Weather Service forecasters quickly sort through data and forecast models to try to detect clusters of information that could help determine the best guidance.

“NHC staff told the NTSB that this capability could have made a difference in the forecasting for Joaquin,” the NTSB report says.

Recommendations to NWS

One of the weather systems mariners use to get weather information is called Inmarsat-C SafetyNET (SAT-C), which is a text broadcast of NHC weather products that goes to the ship’s bridge. During a tropical cyclone, an advisory is issued through this system four times a day. An Intermediate Public Advisory is also issued every three hours by the NHC once watches and warnings for tropical storms or hurricanes are issued, but these intermediate advisories are not available through SAT-C. The first NTSB recommendation in this area involves developing and implementing a plan to make the intermediate advisories available through this system. The report says there was an Intermediate Advisory issued on Joaquin just a few minutes after the crew communicated with the Captain about their course in the hours ahead of the sinking, but El Faro did not get that advisory through that system, because it’s not required.

“The advisory would have identified to the crew that El Faro’s current course was taking them almost directly toward the center of the southwest-moving hurricane,” the report says.

Another recommendation would require the Intermediate Advisory be issued even if the tropical storm or hurricane is not a threat to land- which is the focus under the current advisory construct. This would give new information to mariners in the open water.

Some of the recommendations deal with trying to prevent any potential for confusion dealing with the timing of the advisory. The NTSB is calling on the NWS to take steps to make more clear when subsequent advisories will be issued. Additionally, the NTSB recommends defining a “significant change” in a storm for both track and intensity, to better streamline when new “Special Advisory packages” will be issued for a storm. Those Special Advisories are issued now if there is a watch or warning issued between regular advisories, or if there is an “unexpected significant change” in the storm- which is currently defined by informal protocol.

“Despite Joaquin’s repeated tendency during the days before El Faro sank to move south of its short-term forecast track, as well as two periods of stronger-than-expected short-term intensification, the only Special Advisory package for Joaquin was issued at 1200 EDT on October 3, 2015. That was 2 days after the sinking, when the NHC adjusted Joaquin’s initial and forecast intensity,” the NTSB report says.

Another system a ship can use to get weather information is called FTPmail. Users can send a request and receive large data packets of real-time NWS text and graphics through standard email, but the system is not automated. One recommendation is to allow users to scheduling recurring deliveries, and another is to include more graphics products.

The final recommendation for NWS is to develop a plan for soliciting feedback from mariners about the accuracy, timeliness, and usability of the weather products. The NTSB says there hasn’t been any such solicitation since 2007.

Recommendation to the Coast Guard

While the NTSB sees the Coast Guard as a partner in the implementation of some of the above recommendations, the only direct recommendation to USCG deals with their broadcast of NWS data.

This broadcast goes out through various outlets. The NTSB wants to see the Coast Guard and NWS more closely collaborating on what information is being distributed through this means, to include Intermediate Advisories, Tropical Cyclone Forecasts, and more. The NTSB acknowledged this may not be easy to achieve, because of the constraints around the allocation of the broadcast window, but says it could be an important way for mariners to get timely and comprehensive information.

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Trump wrote Tuesday morning that Democrats “don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13.” The president has blamed Democrats for the recent surge in family separations, saying that laws need to be changed in order to change the separation policy. >> Recording of crying immigrant children separated from parents at border sparks outrage “Now is the best opportunity ever for Congress to change the ridiculous and obsolete laws on immigration,” Trump said Tuesday in a tweet with the hashtag #CHANGETHELAWS.   There are no laws mandating the separation of children and parents at the border. The president also wrote Tuesday morning that “if you don’t have Borders, you don’t have a Country,” and reiterated a claim that crime has risen in Germany since the country started accepting migrants, despite government numbers that show crime at its lowest rate since 1992. Update 9:44 a.m. EDT June 19: The executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund called stories of children being separated from their parents as a result of the Trump administration’s immigration policy “heartbreaking,” saying in a statement Monday that “such practices are in no one’s best interests, least of all the children who suffer their effects.” “Detention and family separation are traumatic experiences that can leave children more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse and can create toxic stress which, as multiple studies have shown, can impact children’s long-term development,” said Henrietta Fore, an American who has headed UNICEF since earlier this year. 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Update 4:30 p.m. EDT June 18: The Department of Health and Human Services has released photos of the “tent city” in the Texas border outpost of Tornillo, just outside of El Paso, where the U.S. government is sending children separated from their parents at the border. There are already dozens of children at the facility, according to news reports. Update 3:10 p.m. EDT June 18: Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, called Monday for the resignation of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen amid the ongoing debate over the Trump administration’s immigration policy. The demand came one day after Nielsen said in a tweet that, “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” Nielsen echoed President Donald Trump’s claims that a law is behind the recent spike in separations of migrant children and their parents at the border. “We will not apologize for enforcing the laws passed by Congress,” Nielsen said. “We are a nation of laws. We are asking Congress to change the laws.” However, as Harris and numerous fact checkers have noted, there is no law that mandates the separation of children and parents at the border. Harris said in a statement Monday that Nielsen’s “misleading statements ... are disqualifying.” “We must speak the truth,” Harris said. “There is no law that says the Administration has to rip children from their families. This Administration can and must reverse course now and it can and must find new leadership for the Department of Homeland Security.” Update 2:30 p.m. June 18: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday that President Donald Trump is telling an “outright lie” when he claims that Democrats are behind the recent surge in separations of children from their parents on the border. “This is not happening because of the 'Democrats' law,' as the White House has claimed,” Clinton said. “Separating families is not mandated by law at all.” Clinton, who ran as a Democrat against Trump during the 2016 presidential election, also appeared to chastise U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who cited a Bible verse last week while justifying the Trump administration’s immigration policy. “Those who selectively use the Bible to justify this cruelty are ignoring a central tenant of Christianity,” Clinton said. “Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children unto me.’ He did not say, ‘Let the children suffer.’” Update 2 p.m. EDT June 18: Former Florida Gov. 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There are no laws mandating the separation of children and parents at the border. “We have the worst immigration laws in the entire world,” Trump said. “Nobody has such sad, such bad – and in many cases, such horrible and tough – you see about child separation. You see what’s going on there.” “The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility,” Trump said. Update 12 p.m. EDT June 18: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday said authorities don’t want to separate children from their families but that officials have a duty to prosecute people who illegally cross the border. “When we ignore our laws at the border we obviously encourage hundreds of thousands of people a year to likewise ignore our laws and illegally enter our country, creating an enormous burden on our law enforcement, our schools, our hospitals and (our) social programs,” Sessions said Monday during the National Sheriffs’ Association Annual Conference in New Orleans. He framed the issue as a debate over “whether we want to be a country of laws or whether we want to be a country without borders.” “President Trump has said this cannot continue,” Sessions said. “We do not want to separate parents from their children. If we build the wall, if we pass legislation to end the lawlessness, we won’t face these terrible choices. We will have a system where those who need to apply for asylum can do so and those who want to come to this country will apply legally.” Sessions’ arguments echoed those of President Donald Trump, who has blamed Democrats for passing laws that he said led to the separations. There are no laws mandating the separation of children and parents at the border. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said earlier Monday that officials will not apologize for enforcing immigration laws. 'We have to do our job,' she said. Original report: President Donald Trump defended his administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy on Monday, writing in a series of tweets that children are being used “by the worst criminals on earth” to get into America as critics slammed the policy for separating children from their parents. “Children are being used by some of the worst criminals on earth as a means to enter our country,” Trump wrote. “Has anyone been looking at the Crime taking place south of the border. It is historic, with some countries the most dangerous places in the world. Not going to happen in the U.S.” The president pointed to a rise in crime in Germany as an example of the chaos caused by illegal immigration, writing in a tweet that it was a “big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture.” However, Germany’s internal ministry reported last month that criminal offenses in the country were at their lowest since 1992, according to Reuters. This spring, the Trump administration ordered prosecutors to charge every person illegally crossing the border. Children traveling with the adults have been separated and placed in detention centers, prompting protests nationwide. The president has blamed Democrats for not fixing the law that allows for the separations. “Tell them to start thinking about the people devastated by Crime coming from illegal immigration,” the president wrote. “Change the laws!” Despite his claim that Democrats are at fault for the situation, The Associated Press reported that the Trump administration “put the policy in place and could easily end it.” The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Very few details are being released by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, after officers were called to assist the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, in reference to a man's body that was found inside a home. According to JSO, the man, believed to be in his 60's, was found inside the home on 101st Street in Ortega Farms.  JSO says the investigation is in its early stages, so they haven't released any information about how the man may have died or even if foul play is suspected.  If you have any information, you're urged to reach out to JSO's non-emergency number of First Coast Crime Stoppers.
  • With recent outcry surrounding the Trump administration's enforcement of an immigration policy that separates children from their parents, if they try to cross the border illegally, we've learned some of those kids are being housed at a federal facility in Homestead, Florida. Governor Rick Scott says he's sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, to end the practice of separation, saying he 'absolutely' does not agree with it.  Scott says the Homestead facility has been used to house unaccompanied immigrant children in the past, including during the Obama Administration, but he’s only recently become aware that the facility may be housing children who have been forcibly removed from their families.  His office says the facility re-opened earlier this year. In the letter, Scott says he demanded answers to the following questions:  • Will you notify federal, state and local authorities immediately of any current or future unaccompanied minors – or children who were separated from their families under President Trump’s zero-tolerance policy toward illegal entry into the United States – coming to, or placed in, Florida?  • Are you conducting health screenings both at the border and again at the time the children are placed in shelters?  • What health, educational, or other social services have been provided to any children placed in Florida?  Scott says Florida stands ready to assist with re-unifying children who have been separated from their families.  Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson is also making his feelings about the facility well known, as he attempted to tour the facility on Tuesday, but was told by HHS he needed to give 'two weeks notice.'  'That’s ridiculous and it’s clear this administration is hiding something,' said Nelson in response.  Nelson says he's confirmed with HHS that the Homestead facility is housing 94 children, who have been separated from their families. Republican Senator Marco Rubio did not specifically address the Homestead facility, but is also voicing his concerns about the separation of families on Twitter, calling the policy ‘cruel.’
  • Emergency repairs are now done, weeks after a semi-truck hit the I-95 overpass at Martin Luther King, Jr. Parkway. The Florida Department of Transportation has had the right lane of I-95 northbound closed since the incident mid-May. We’re told the construction was completed in around 35 days, which is sooner than the 50-day contract allowed. The lane is now open.  Part of the work included replacing a bridge beam, which the FDOT captured in a time lapse video.  The FDOT says the response was quick and appropriate, in order to restore the highway to full capacity.  The emergency repair contract was awarded to Superior Construction, with VIA Consulting Services, Inc. acting as consulting engineer.

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