TOTE Incorporated is fighting back against a National Cargo Bureau report which concluded it was “probable” El Faro’s cargo shifted on her fatal voyage because some of the heavier cargo was “likely” not secured in a satisfactory way.
“Despite the fact that this investigation in to the loss of El Faro has been underway for some 16 months now, you were not provided really much of any of the information that’s been collected regarding the loss, have you,” asked TOTE Incorporated Attorney Jeff King.
The NCB report was put together at the request of the NTSB and was presented during the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation's Wednesday hearing session, with testimony continuing in to Thursday. Captain Phil Anderson and Captain Edward Walker Jr. presented the findings, while giving the caveat that they did not review other factors beyond cargo, including ship speed.
FULL COVERAGE: El Faro sinking
Anderson says he didn't want to review the ship's Voyage Data Recorder transcript because he didn't want to be influenced by any statements.
King questions accurate the report can be when that information- which he believes to be pertinent- was left out.
“So you would agree that you essentially developed your reports and came to your conclusions that you provided yesterday and today in a factual vacuum, based on the assumptions and some limited facts that were provided for you, is that correct,” King asked.
“Again I would not comment on existence or not of any factual vacuum. I believe our report speaks for itself in what we were reviewing and what we did review,” Anderson says.
King questioned whether Anderson and Walker were aware of the weather conditions during El Faro's final voyage. Beyond knowing there were hurricane conditions, they were not. They also weren't aware of details of the prior MBI witness testimony, including statements from former crew members and the man who oversaw cargo lashing on the final trip. They had also not seen the cargo or lashings, relying on the stowing arrangement and other information provided by the NTSB.
Pressed on his finding that it was “probable” some of El Faro’s cargo shifted on her final voyage, Anderson confirmed that they can’t definitively say if that happened, or if it would have influenced or resulted from the sinking.
“Let’s be very clear on this. You have no evidence whatsoever that there was in fact a domino effect involving a failure of lashings on the El Faro, correct?” asked King.
“That is correct,” responded Anderson.
King further questioned the assumptions used in some of NCB’s calculations, including the calculation used on non-standard, heavy cargo that led them to conclude it was “likely” that cargo was not sufficiently secured. The complex calculation considers a range of factors, including material strength, stowage location, lashing angles, and more. King took issue with the vessel speed that was factored in, because the range was between 19 and 24 knots, but King says indications through the VDR and other data is El Faro was around 19 knots or lower leading up to the sinking.
“Reading all these reports brought me back to school, so it was a great tutorial. But we’re here at an MBI to look at the actual events surrounding a loss on October 1, so wouldn’t you agree that the actual facts as they existed that day would be important to your testimony,” questioned King.
“I can’t address that, all I can go by is what we were asked to do,” said Anderson.
King also pushed back on the NCB report’s claim that TOTE had a “tendency” toward non-standard lashing schemes, because photos from lashing on El Faro’s sister ship and in TOTE’s own lashing manual show non-standard arrangements. King argued the strength of the chains that were used and other technical points, but the NCB reps continually circled back to their main focus- it was approved lashing per the ship’s Cargo Securing Manual.
El Faro's cargo loading manual was approved, and Anderson says if the cargo were secured according to the manual, it would have been satisfactory. The VDR transcript shows various crew reports of a trailer tilting, cars floating, and containers in the water.
TOTE Incorporated is the parent company of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico- El Faro's owner- and TOTE Services- El Faro's operator.
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