Jacksonville, FL - There was work to be done.
“It was old, it needed some TLC so to speak, and she was operable at sea,” says former El Faro Bosun Evan Bradley.
Bradley is one of two former El Faro crew members who worked the ship’s deck that came in front of the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation Tuesday, telling officials they didn’t have any good idea how to boost the inspection program over ships like this, but it’s something that needs to change.
“It’s like you’re trying to take a 40-year-old car to New York driving. It’s scary. You don’t know if you’re going to make it,” says former El Faro Able-Bodied Seaman Marvin Hearman III.
Hearman says standard work on the ship was tending to issues with her age.
“Four hours a day we chipped, we painted, and no if, ands or buts about it. We knocked a lot of rust, I’m talking about buckets and buckets and buckets of rust,” he says.
Bradley says they were doing an “extensive maintenance project” while he was on board, in order to prep the ship for the Alaskan trade. He told the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation that he was worried about the watertight integrity of the bow because of wear to a specific forward hatch, although he believes that issue was addressed. There are some other hatches that would give him issues, though.
“Sometimes you would have to shake it to line it up to secure it, but when I was aboard they worked,” Bradley says.
They would also occasionally leave hatches open, if someone was working below. He says there was a plaque posted on the hatch that would indicate why it was open, and it would be up to the worker to ensure everything was closed and sealed when he was done.
He would always make sure that watertight openings were closed ahead of a departure, especially behind the longshoremen who would load the cargo and- according to Bradley- not always make sure openings were secured behind them.
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Complacency was something Bradley says he worked to address, especially because many of those on board were used to the route. He described one time when he had “a bad feeling” because they had taken on wind, spray, and rain. Something hadn’t been properly done on deck, allowing some water in a deck below the main deck, which they ultimately had to actively drain.
“I mentioned to the Captain that sometimes, sometimes I just get the feeling that if we get caught up in a hurricane, this ship’s gunna have some problems,” Bradley says.
After talking things through with the Captain, Bradley says a meeting was held to address complacency and the possibility of heavy weather at any time.
Overall, both mentioned some concerns dealing with the Alternate Compliance Program- the inspection program over commercial ships like El Faro. Hearman says he didn’t believe the inspections were thorough enough.
“It’s an old ship, it’s an old ship, and a lot of those ships need to be took out the fleet, to be honest,” he says.
Bradley thinks it would be good to increase the frequency of inspections and scope of their work, but isn’t sure how to best make that happen.
“That’s a damn good question, and I wish I had a better answer for you,” he says.
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