Jacksonville, FL - Among the 33 lives lost in the sinking of El Faro, are five Polish nationals who were on board the vessel as a riding crew doing work to convert the ship for the Alaskan trade.
Until now, the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation has heard testimony that everyone on board the ship got safety trainings, knew where lifesaving equipment was stored, and was otherwise given a full orientation to the ship. Wednesday, one of the former riding crew members cast a doubt on that.
Marek Pupp signed off El Faro September 29, 2015, just ahead of what would become her final voyage. He had been on the ship since August, mainly doing electrical work.
He told investigators that he couldn’t recall being involved in any safety meetings and wasn’t sure where he would have mustered- or responded to in the event of an emergency. He additionally told investigators that he and the other Polish workers didn’t participate in shipboard drills, like lifeboat drills, and- in fact- worked through those drills.
Investigators have frequently questioned how the riding crew was handled on the ship. Pupp says they didn’t interact much with the ship’s crew, with Pupp himself not speaking or reading English. When he was on El Faro, he says there were two riding crew members who spoke English and would translate instructions from a ship official regarding what they needed to do while on board. The transcript of El Faro’s Voyage Data Recorder shows crew members joking about the Polish riding crew not having a good understanding of English or comprehension of Hurricane Joaquin.
In fact, Pupp says at the time he got off El Faro, he wasn’t aware it was hurricane season.
Pupp says the workers with him at the time were doing things in the vicinity of the engine room, but only in the engine room for the purpose of passing through. Previous testimony in the MBI has shown it’s possible the riding crew was doing work in the engine room on El Faro’s final voyage, with company emails indicating they were building a stand to install a heater.
At the conclusion of Wednesday’s testimony, an attorney for TOTE Inc.- the parent company over El Faro's owner and operator- told investigators that he was introducing an exhibit which is a portion of the company’s safety management system that deals specifically with how contractors are indoctrinated, as well as records of that orientation taking place. He says this is a portion of the company’s documentation which investigators didn’t previously receive.
Pupp testified to the MBI via Skype from Poland. Initially, a translator was used from his end, but then a Coast Guard Auxiliarist was used in the hearing room in Jacksonville, and her translations were confirmed by a TOTE Inc. employee, who also spoke Polish. The translations were not verbatim, but rather summaries of Pupp’s comments. Because of the communication and technology barriers, we’re told Pupp will also be sent certified questions to answer in writing.
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