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NTSB investigators to bring forward more than 50 safety recommendations from El Faro sinking probe
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NTSB investigators to bring forward more than 50 safety recommendations from El Faro sinking probe

NTSB investigators to bring forward more than 50 safety recommendations from El Faro sinking probe
Photo Credit: TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico

NTSB investigators to bring forward more than 50 safety recommendations from El Faro sinking probe

More than two years after their investigation in to the sinking of cargo ship El Faro began, the National Transportation Safety Board is poised to release their recommendations on how to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again. 

The NTSB has compiled more than 50 proposed recommendations as a result of their investigation, which has totaled some 30,500 hours and $5.6 million. They’re also produced more than 70 findings connected to the sinking- all of which face a vote by the Board on Tuesday. While the exact recommendations won’t be disclosed until the meeting, the NTSB says they deal with the Captain’s actions, currency of weather information, bridge team management, company oversight, damage control plans, and survival craft suitability. 

FULL COVERAGE:The sinking of El Faro

33 people on board El Faro died when the ship went down in Hurricane Joaquin, while traveling from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico. 

GALLERY:Tributes to the El Faro crew

Tuesday’s NTSB meeting will be carried out slightly different than others, because of the volume of information being discussed. Generally, Chairmen of the NTSB groups studying various aspects of transportation incidents will present their reports, and then the Managing Director will read all of the findings, recommendations, and the probable cause of the incident- on which the Board will vote. For Tuesday’s meeting on the sinking of El Faro, findings and recommendations will be presented throughout the Group Chairman’s reports. Probable cause will still be read at the end by the Managing Director. 

The NTSB is making the changes in order to make the meeting easier to follow and more concise. Regardless, the NTSB tells WOKV the meeting is expected to last all day. 

It also may take a little longer than the standard allotment of up to ten days to produce the NTSB’s Final Report after the meeting. That report will have the accident synopsis, as well as what the Board approves. 

From there, the NTSB will advocate for the implementation of their recommendations, as they do with all other cases. What the Board votes on are recommendations, not actual changes. The recommendations could be issued to government entities, industry leaders, professional organizations, manufacturers, or any number of other groups- whoever the NTSB believes is most directly responsible for or able to implement change. 

FULL COVERAGE: In-depth on the NTSB Group Chairman Factual Reports

Because the NTSB is not a regulatory agency, there will not be any blame or liability addressed, or recommendations of penalties for any violations of law or regulations. Instead, they issue these recommendations in an effort to prevent more transportation incidents and save lives. 

El Faro sank in Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015, killing all 33 people on board. The ship took on water and faced engineering issues- including a loss of propulsion- because of the resulting list and efforts to balance the ship out. Cargo is also believed to have been breaking free and shifting both above and below deck, although parties involved dispute the severity and, ultimately, impact that had on the sinking. While the final moments captured by the ship’s Voyage Data Recorder- or black box- capture the Captain calling to abandon ship, investigators don’t believe the lifeboats ever launched. 

AUDIO: El Faro’s Master describes ‘marine emergency’

The NTSB conducted three missions to locate and recover that VDR- it was found on the second mission, but couldn’t be brought up until a third trip, which included deploying specialized salvage equipment. From that VDR, the NTSB produced the longest transcript it has ever assembled, which detailed about 26 hours of audio captured from the bridge. There was other data recovered in the device as well, including location and meteorological conditions. 

The NTSB Group Chairmen’s reports have been released gradually throughout the course of the investigation. WOKV has gone through each in detail to learn the various factors involved in areas like engineering, survival, and human performance. During Tuesday’s meeting, those reports will be expanded on, and the Board will vote on the recommendations surfacing from that investigative work. 

While the NTSB is operating independently at this point and has conducted their own interviews and investigative work since the sinking, they also fully participated in three, two-week hearing sessions conducted in Jacksonville by a Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation that also probed the sinking. The MBI released its Report of Investigation on October 1, two years after the sinking. The Coast Guard Commandant is currently reviewing the ROI to determine which of the MBI’s recommendations he concurs with and which he does not. From there, the Commandant will order change in areas he controls through the Coast Guard and create plans to achieve the recommendations that require collaborations with other government entities or groups. 

The MBI’s process was also outside of the standard for this investigation- generally the ROI is not public until after the Commandant issues his Final Action Memo. The MBI wanted to promote transparency and provide the public information before that, with no set timeline for when the FAM will be released. 

VOYAGE DATA RECORDER: El Faro’s final hours

The MBI’s work is different than the NTSB in a number of ways, including that they can make recommendations on penalties, and did, in fact, recommended civil penalty action against El Faro’s owner and operator. The MBI Board Chair further confirmed that they would have recommended a negligence complaint against the ship Master’s credentials, had he survived. 

The NTSB has not waited for their investigation to be complete to issue recommendations. With the start of the Atlantic Hurricane season, the NTSB issued several recommendations from their ongoing work on the El Faro sinking, which they believed would be important for promoting the safety of mariners at sea during the storm season. 

WOKV will follow Tuesday’s meeting as the findings, recommendations, and probable cause are discussed and ultimately voted on. Get developing details on Twitter.

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