Mostly Cloudy
H 92° L 76°
  • cloudy-day
    Current Conditions
    Mostly Cloudy. H 92° L 76°
  • cloudy-day
    Mostly Cloudy. H 92° L 76°
  • partly-cloudy-tstorms-day
    Sct Thunderstorms. H 92° L 76°

The latest top stories

00:00 | 00:00


The latest traffic report

00:00 | 00:00


The latest forecast

00:00 | 00:00

Former El Faro crew member details 'real world' of shipboard safety culture

Former El Faro crew member details 'real world' of shipboard safety culture

Former El Faro crew member details 'real world' of shipboard safety culture
Photo Credit: US Coast Guard exhibit

Former El Faro crew member details 'real world' of shipboard safety culture

Through the investigation of the El Faro sinking, there have been questions about how the crew was trained to report any problems and if they were able to do that anonymously at sea.

Now, we’re getting a closer look at how a report of a potentially major safety concern was handled by the ship’s owner and operator, and the concerns the man who reported it all has about how things worked.

“I lost pretty much my whole brotherhood behind something that could have been prevented," says Former El Faro Able-Bodied Seaman Marvin Hearman III.

We’ve heard reference so far during this Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation hearing session about a ship’s officer falling asleep while on watch. El Faro’s Voyage Data Recorder, or black box, captured a conversation between two crew members about a former El Yunque Chief Mate who, while on watch on El Faro, had fallen asleep. The crew members made references to not believing there had been any punishment, according to the VDR transcript.

It turns out that Chief Mate was demoted, and the company did investigate- although they were skeptical at the start.

Captain John Lawrence, TOTE Services Director of Fleet Safety, says he got a text message from an unknown El Faro crew member with photos of a man sitting on a stool sleeping. There were two instances, apparently on different days because the person in the photo was wearing different clothes. He says the reporting crew member was being “fairly uncooperative”, only sporadically communicating and unwilling to talk on the phone or communicate through email.

“So I finally gave him a few ultimatums, saying listen, you can tell me who you are, what you want me to follow up on this, basically let me know what you’re going to do, but I’m not going to continue this game of texting back and forth and getting partial answers unless you’re serious about wanting me to look in to this. He finally gave up, if I remember correctly, at that point,” Lawrence says.

That crew member, Hearman, has now identified himself to the whole MBI, and he says the fact that Lawrence seemed more concerned about who he was than the problem he was reporting was concerning for him. He told investigators he was the watch partner for that Chief Mate, and had woken him up several times, even pulling him to the side to warn him that he needed to be alert while on watch.

“Any chance he gets, he’ll go to sleep. He’s a sleeper,” says Hearman.

He says when he came forward, it was on behalf of other crew members who also knew what was happening and had collectively compiled dozens of photos of the officer sleeping on watch.

Lawrence did take the photos up the chain in the company command, and after internal discussions, they decided to have Human Resources and the head of Labor Relations and Crewing address the matter with El Faro’s Captain. We’re told the officer in question admitted what happened.

An email from Lawrence to another company executive in July 2015 shows some of the reason he was initially cautious with the complaint, noting it was unclear when the photos were taken and whether, in fact, the officer was on watch, as opposed to visiting the bridge during another person’s watch. He further raised questions, though, about the crew member who made the complaint, who he believed at the time had been terminated from the company

“Crew member taking picture, showed own irresponsibility of duties and lack of safety by not waking the watch officer, if the case. Crew member taking picture. Makes me feel we should not be allowing personal cell phones while on watch. Many of our vessels have policy. Company policy does not allow taking pictures of other crew members. Says he told other crew members,” the email says, as read by MBI Member Keith Fawcett during the hearing session.

Questioning from Fawcett appeared to indicate they believed someone else had sent the photos, but Hearman says he used an app to send the messages, in order to mask his number.

Fawcett further questioned whether part of the company’s investigation looked at work/rest hours to determine if fatigue could have contributed to the Chief Mate falling asleep on watch. Lawrence says he didn’t, and he’s not sure if anyone else did. There was also no medical exam performed to determine if there was any condition which contributed to officer falling asleep. Lawrence says the officer didn’t request it, and admitted what happened.

“In your opinion, did the safety management system work by virtue of a crew member reporting something directly to you that was a problem and was ultimately corrected,” asked TOTE Inc attorney Luke Reid.

“That’s correct, yes it did,” Lawrence responded.

Hearman believes that if he were the one who had been caught sleeping, he would have been fired. He also feared repercussion for reporting problems. That was highlighted after Fawcett laid out information about federal whistleblower protections, before asking Hearman how those are working.

 “You’ve shipped for some time, and what’s the real world? What’s your feeling about the real world- if you make a report to the Coast Guard, for example, about a safety deficiency,” Fawcett asked.

“I’m gunna be honest, you’re gunna get fired. If you call the Coast Guard, the Designated Person, all of them guys, you’re gunna get fired,” Hearman responded.

A TOTE attorney questioned Hearman on why it took him so long to send the pictures- the first one was from months prior to his initial communication with Lawrence. The attorney further questioned whether he was using the photos as revenge following a dispute with the Chief Mate. Hearman says it was the culmination of many things, including that two Captains on El Faro- including Captain Michael Davidson, who was the Master at the time of the sinking- caught the Chief Mate sleeping and scolded him, but it didn’t seem to change his behaviors.

Hearman says reporting the incident bred hostility on board the ship, which added to an existing divide between officers and the unlicensed crew. He cited several other incidents which involved different arguments and disputes, adding that how TOTE handled crewing the new class of vessels they were rolling out led to some issues between crew members as well, specifically with tension between those that were selected for the new ship and those who were not. Despite the tension among the crew, Hearman says Davidson was intelligent, and one of the best Captains he worked for in terms of answering questions and addressing problems.

“Captain Davidson, he was pretty much more like if you wanted to know something you can learn, if you’ve got a question, he will give you an answer,” Hearman says

On of the many incidents referenced by Hearman was when a dog alerted to his room. TOTE then expanded on that, describing a Customs and Border Protection dog alerting to drugs in his stateroom. Hearman immediately disputed the claim, saying the alert was retribution for his contacting the DPA and the other issues on the ship. He told the Board he took a drug test that came back negative. Hearman’s union lodged a grievance, which TOTE says was withdrawn after they provided evidence on the search. Hearman than got an attorney to lodge a formal claim, but that attorney later indicated they didn’t have anything to move forward with. TOTE further says they have a decision from the Florida Commission on Human Relations, which they were going to file in to evidence.

It’s not the first time there have been allegations of drug activity on a TOTE vessel discussed at these hearing sessions. During the second phase, investigators presented information about alleged drug smuggling that resulted in the arrest of some crew members from El Morro, one of El Faro’s sister ships.

This testimony is the latest in what has been a lengthy examination of the safety management system and safety culture on El Faro and other TOTE vessels. Investigators have questioned life boat and fire drills, safety meetings, work/rest hours, complacency, and more.

WOKV continues to follow the latest developments from the MBI. Get instant updates on Twitter.

Read More

There are no comments yet. Be the first to post your thoughts. or Register.

The Latest News Headlines

  • Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was among the passengers on board an American Airlines plane that was quarantined in Nashville early Thursday. That plane has since “been cleared” and the passengers allowed to leave, according to WZTV. Here are the latest updates: Update 8:40 a.m. EDT Aug. 16: Nashville International Airport spokesperson Shannon Sumrall said in a statement released to The Tennessean that passengers were held Thursday morning on American Airlines Flight 1289 as a precaution because of a passenger’s recent illness. Sumrall told the newspaper that a physician “medically cleared” the passenger ahead of the flight, but that the passenger did not have paperwork to confirm his or her health. “(The passenger) was talking bout the recent illness and other passengers on board became worried of exposure,” Sumrall told The Tennessean. “For safety, passengers were held by BNA (Nashville International Airport) Police until contact was made with the physician to confirm clearance, which it was.” Officials did not identify the illness. Update 7:52 a.m. EDT Aug. 16: The American Airlines passenger who appeared to be ill “has been cleared,” WZTV reports. The passengers are now off the plane, the station said. Original report: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is on board an American Airlines plane that has been quarantined in Nashville, WZTV reports. Flight 1289, which traveled from Los Angeles to Nashville overnight, was detained at Nashville International Airport after a passenger appeared to be sick, an American Airlines spokeswoman told the news station. >> Read more trending news  Huckabee tweeted about the incident early Thursday. “5 hr red eye flight on @AmericanAir Nashville from LA. On ground for 40 min and now told someone on board is sick & we are being towed to other gate and quarantined until all checked out. Can’t get up to go to bathroom or get off plane. It’s the Russians! I just know it!” he wrote just after 6:30 a.m. EDT Thursday. “1 hr after landing got to far away gate where @AmericanAir will hopefully get us off this plane! Medical [personnel] at gate. Hope it’s not because I got that straw in CA,” he added. According to WZTV, “the plane was taken to a remote portion of the airport where emergency personnel were waiting for the plane.” Those on board were instructed to stay put as a Vanderbilt Hospital doctor examined the patient. Read more here.
  • A judge sentenced a Georgia man to 15 years in prison for shooting an off-duty police officer, but the man served barely one year in prison before he was released – by mistake. >> Watch the news report here A representative of the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office told WSB-TV investigative reporter Mark Winne that last week, the state Department of Community Supervision notified the office that Jermarcus Jordan was not in prison, where he was supposed to be. This week, the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office arrested Jordan on new charges of aggravated assault and cruelty to children after he had been out of prison for two years. Chris Smith is the officer who was shot by Jordan. He told Winne that he's no longer a police officer and there are too many holes in the system of which he was once a part. “It shows that there are a lot of loopholes and different things that really just need to be fixed,” Smith said. Smith said he was an Atlanta police officer working an extra job in uniform at an apartment complex when a gunman cut loose in 2013 with a shotgun as Smith sat in his pickup truck. >> Baby found dead in car after man flees traffic stop, police say “I was shot in the head, a birdshot, and I was shot in my right calf with buckshot. Had it been reversed, I would have been dead on the scene,” Smith told Winne. “I still have six pellets in my head, anywhere from my hairline back.” Documents and other information suggest the following timeline: On Jan. 14, 2015, a judge sentenced Jordan to 25 years in prison, with 15 years to serve. That same day, a probation revocation order was filed against Jordan, involving an old robbery case against him. The sentence for that case expired on May 13, 2016. A judge this week said it appeared to him that Jordan was released by the Department of Corrections in error on May 13, 2016 -- long before he had served 15 years for the attack on Smith. “I wish I had an answer for how that happened,” Smith said. Joan Heath, with the Georgia Department of Corrections, said the department did not release Jordan in error and that there was a problem with the documentation the department received from the DeKalb County Clerk of Superior Court’s Office regarding the sentence for the attack on Smith. >> Read more trending news  The documentation was returned, but the Department of Corrections said it never received the corrected paperwork needed to legally hold Jordan past May 2016. DeKalb County Superior Court Clerk Debra DeBerry told Winne that her office sent everything it was supposed to send. Heath said that, because of other, similar paperwork issues with clerk's offices, last year the department initiated new follow-up procedures as an additional safeguard. DeBerry said that a 2015 document Winne found in the records indicates a probation worker told the Department of Corrections she would take care of the problem. A representative for the Department of Community Supervision said probation is under that department now, but wasn’t in 2015, so the department can’t comment on this case.
  • Troopers with the Florida Highway Patrol are investigating a hit and run that happened Wednesday evening on I-295 at Roosevelt Boulevard.  According to the crash report, the driver of a white SUV was in the right lane when it hit a woman who was driving a BMW as she was slowing down behind a Toyota Highlander who had come to a complete stop due to traffic. After being rear-ended, the BMW then hit the back of the Highlander.  The driver of the SUV took off before first responders were able to get to the crash. Troopers were unable to provide a complete description of the SUV. FHP is not sure which state the SUV’s tag is from, but they do know the first two letters are “PG.”  Two people were injured in the crash, the driver of the BMW and the driver of the Toyota Highlander.  The Toyota also had to small children inside, but they were not hurt. 
  • A fight that broke out following an early morning crash on a California interstate ended with both drivers dead, according to state troopers.  California Highway Patrol officials told the Sacramento Bee that a call came in shortly before 4 a.m. reporting a crash on Interstate 5 in the Natomas community, just north of Sacramento. The drivers, both men, stopped their vehicles in the area of Del Paso Road, got out and began to fight.  One driver struck the other with a blunt force object, killing him, the Bee reported.  “It escalated from a traffic collision to a fight to a homicide,” Mike Zerfas, spokesman for the Highway Patrol, told the Bee.  The still-living driver began walking north on the freeway -- at which point he was struck and killed by a passing motorist, Zerfas said. Both men were pronounced dead at the scene. The freeway was closed for more than eight hours as detectives investigated the crime scene.  >> Read more trending news A witness told CBS Sacramento that the blunt object used in the homicide appeared to be a baseball bat. The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was driving to work Sunday morning when she came upon the scene.  “I look over to my right and there’s a body in the middle lane,” the woman told the television station. “At that point, I panicked and was trying to protect the body with my car so the other vehicles wouldn’t run him over.” The woman said the man with the bat was hitting windows on passing vehicles as the other man lay on the roadway. Afraid, she drove off, she said.  Zerfas told KXTL-TV in Sacramento that fights between angry motorists are a common occurrence, but not in the way Sunday’s fight went down.  “Fights on the freeway between angry motorists, whether it’s the result of a traffic collision or some sort of road rage-type incident, occur quite often,” Zerfas said. “Usually not in the middle of the lanes like it happened here.” A death in such a situation is rare, much less two deaths.  The motorist who hit the homicide suspect remained at the scene and cooperated with investigators, the news station reported. It was not yet known if any charges would be filed against that driver. 
  • Political consultant Paul Manafort led a professional life that put him in rich and powerful circles. He worked for four of the last five Republican presidents and made his money by making connections.  But as Manafort’s fortunes grew, so did federal prosecutors’ curiosity about his work with politicians at home and abroad. Now Manafort, 69, is facing the possibility that he will live out his life behind prison bars.  In October 2017, Manafort surrendered at the FBI field office in Washington, D.C. after being indicted on 12 counts by a grand jury in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Manafort went on trial in August 2018 on charges of tax and bank fraud and tax evasion, and faces a second trial in the fall on charges of money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent while he lobbied for the government of Ukraine. While the indictment came out of the special counsel’s investigation, none of the charges against Manafort directly involve President Trump. Manafort served as Trump’s campaign chairman for a short time during the summer of 2016. Here is what we know about Paul Manafort: Manafort was born in 1949. He grew up in Connecticut. He earned a law degree from Georgetown University. Manafort worked for former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He was the chairman of Donald Trump’s campaign but resigned in August 2016 after revelations surfaced about his work on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  According to The Associated Press, Manafort “helped a pro-Russian governing party in Ukraine secretly route at least $2.2 million in payments to two prominent Washington lobbying firms in 2012, and did so in a way that effectively obscured the foreign political party's efforts to influence U.S. policy.” All U.S. lobbyists must declare publicly if they represent any foreign leaders or political parties.  The New York Times reported that Manafort spoke to Russian intelligence officials last year via telephone calls that were monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies. Manafort has denied that he spoke with the Russians.  Manafort has also been linked to handwritten ledgers that list cash payments of $12.7 million in Manafort’s name.  According to Politico, legal complaints filed by representatives of Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in the Cayman Islands in 2014 claimed Deripaska gave Manafort $19 million to invest in a Ukrainian TV company. After the venture failed, Manafort took the money, the complaint claims, and did not pay Deripaska back.  Trump hired Manafort's lobbying firm to help the Trump Organization.  CNN reported that federal investigators wiretapped Manafort both before and after the 2016 election. Federal investigators executed a “no-knock warrant” at Manafort's home in northern Virginia on July 26, 2017. Manafort had met with the Senate intelligence committee the day before. 

The Latest News Videos