El Faro saw "probable" cargo shift on her final voyage

The way some of El Faro’s heavier cargo was secured was likely not satisfactory on her final voyage.

The Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation working the sinking of El Faro has heard prior testimony that the way cargo was lashed on the ship was more often driven by experience than guidelines. Now, we're learning a calculation meant to determine how certain cargo should be stored was apparently not applied, and- along with other factors- it means it's "probable" there was a cargo shift on board.

FULL COVERAGE: El Faro sinking

At the request of the NTSB, the National Cargo Bureau put together a report reviewing El Faro's cargo securing manual and the loading on what would become her fatal voyage. They found some inconsistencies and some areas that were confusing, but overall, it falls in line with what they see in the industry.

“If the cargo had been secured in accordance with the cargo securing manual, it would have been considered properly secured,” says NCB Chief of the Technical Department Captain Phillip Anderson.

When checking the securing arrangement by containers, Anderson says they found many stacks to be non-compliant. At this time, he says they were advised the cargo was actually secured in accordance with a one page guideline called “EL minimum lashing requirements”, although Anderson says he doesn’t know who prepared that standard and who approved it- if it was approved at all. If those guidelines are accepted, only one stack was out of compliance.

With the second deck trailer cargo, there was a “significant” amount stored off-button, or without a connection to a fixed securing point that’s generally used for this cargo. According to Anderson, there needs to be a special calculation run in order to figure out how to store this cargo properly off-button, but there was no sign that was done, so NCB ran the numbers.

“We concluded that securing may have been satisfactory for most of the cargo if lashings were properly applied, but was not likely to be satisfactory for heavier pieces off-button,” Anderson says.

He believes that cargo ultimately became a problem on the final voyage.

“We believe that it is probable that there was a cargo shift. In the event of any cargo shift, a domino effect would be likely to result in progressive lashing failure as shifting cargo overloaded adjacent lashings as the vessel rolled,” Anderson says.

The NCB could not, however, make any determination on whether the probable shift contributed to the sinking, or resulted from it.

Further, NCB determined a “tendency towards lashing not being properly applied at times”, with TOTE’s own lashing manual showing improper configurations, in Anderson’s interpretation. He says the more concerning inconsistencies in his analysis deal with the securing points on cargo and the angle of the lashing.

GALLERT: MBI exhibits show lashing

When putting together this report, the NCB used only the information they were supplied with. Anderson says he intentionally stayed away from the Voyage Data Recorder transcript and prior MBI witness testimony, because he didn't want to be influenced by anything other than the manuals and data. The transcript showed that the crew reported containers in the water and some cars bobbing in floodwater.

Anderson says he does not consider vessel speed, weight and other similar factors in his analysis.

Anderson’s testimony was cut short Wednesday because of the late time of day, but will continue on Thursday.

WOKV will continue to follow the MBI from inside of the hearing room. Get instant updates on Twitter.

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