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Targeting problems raised by the sinking of Jacksonville-based cargo ship El Faro, the President will now consider a bill on maritime safety.  The Senate passed the measure on Wednesday, and the House adopted it Thursday. This comes nearly three years after the ship sank in Hurricane Joaquin, killing all 33 people on board. El Faro was heavily loaded, when it started taking on water while traveling between Jacksonville and Puerto Rico. Federal investigators have concluded the ship over-corrected in its effort to balance a list and lost lube oil suction as a result. Without propulsion, with a substantial list, and dealing with the conditions around this major hurricane, the ship sank.  GALLERY: Tributes to the El Faro crew AUDIO: El Faro’s Captain describes “marine emergency” Both the NTSB and a Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation examined the sinking, and faulted decision making by the Captain, in bringing the ship too close to the storm, as a primary reason for the sinking. The attorney for the Captain's widow has disputed those findings. There were many contributing factors identified by investigators as well, though, including not detecting longstanding deficiencies in inspections and insufficient safety management systems on board. The reports from both of those federal investigative bodies have led to this legislation, which is known as the “Hamm Alert Maritime Safety Act of 2018”, after one of the men who died in the sinking, and his family, who fought for the changes.  FULL COVERAGE: The sinking of El Faro Among the changes, the legislation requires the Commandant of the Coast Guard enter negotiations to amend international standards to require freight vessels be outfitted with high-water alarm sensors and float-free Voyage Data Recorders with emergency position indicating radio beacons. This addresses two concerns raised by federal investigators. First, the high-water alarm sensors will give the bridge a better awareness of water getting on board, because the sensor would be connected to both audible and visual alarms on the bridge. Second, a float-free VDR with an EPIRB will ideally be able to be more easily located and retrieved. It took two missions to find El Faro’s VDR, and a third to recover it from the wreckage on the ocean floor. Analysis of the more than 26 hours of data captured on the VDR proved to be invaluable in piecing together the final hours on board.  IN DEPTH: El Faro’s VDR IN DEPTH: Additional portions of El Faro’s VDR The Commandant will also conduct a cost-benefit analysis of requiring VDRs capture internal telephone communication. For El Faro, the VDR only recorded sound on the bridge, so while it captured a substantial amount of audio, there is no documentation of what crew members were saying while speaking to someone on the bridge, if they weren’t on the bridge themselves.  GALLERY: El Faro’s Voyage Data Recorder To make it easier for a ship’s crew to anonymously report potential safety issues on board, this bill establishes an anonymous safety alert pilot program with a direct line of communication to the Coast Guard. With El Faro, there were questions raised on whether issues could be truly anonymously reported to the ship’s owner and operator, TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico and TOTE Services, because the phone was on the bridge and emails were not done on private computers.  There are more requirements on timely and detailed weather forecasts in this bill- areas where the NTSB sought action before their investigation had even concluded. The main weather system used on El Faro, Bon Voyage System, had a duplicated hurricane forecast track that the ship used to track Hurricane Joaquin’s path in the hours ahead of the sinking. It also took hours for the forecast data to be processed and sent to the ship, through that system. The National Hurricane Center further said Hurricane Joaquin was an especially difficult storm to forecast. The bill doesn’t specify what the changes will look like, but generally requires ships get “timely synoptic and graphical chart weather forecasts” and timely advisories, when available.  The Coast Guard will be ordered to conduct a review on openings, stability standards, and lifesaving equipment, through the bill. The investigations on this sinking showed some openings on the ship were used both as water-tight and weather-tight, which could have made them vulnerable points for taking on water. While it’s not believed by investigators that the crew would have been able to survive, even if they abandoned ship, they say the best chance for that would have been if the crew had enclosed lifeboats, as opposed to the open design allowed on El Faro, because of her age. Lifeboats are not explicitly addressed in the bill, but rather a review of “lifesaving equipment for mariners, including survival suits and life jackets”.  There is another provision in the bill requiring search-and-rescue units procure equipment to mark any item that can’t be immediately retrieved with a radio or Automated Identification System beacon. The SAR operations after the sinking of El Faro located one body, but the remains were not immediately recovered, because crews had to go investigate a report of a waving survival suit, meaning a possible survivor. That survival suit was not located, and the beacon that was left on the remains did not work, and the crew was not able to locate the remains again. A SAR representative admitted during the investigation that those beacons were often faulty, but he said they were already in the process of upgrading.  GALLERY: El Faro’s wreckage The Coast Guard is also being ordered to review the documentation of “major conversions”. Some conversion work on El Faro was not classified as a “major conversion”, although investigators have since said it should have been. If it got that designation, the ship would have been required to adopt more modern standards, including with the type of lifeboats it had.  Another area that saw substantial review under these investigations is the Alternate Compliance Program, which is the inspection protocol that El Faro was under and that’s still being used on commercial vessels currently. It allows alternate classification societies to do survey work on behalf of the Coast Guard, to eliminate the duplication of their inspections. The investigations in to this sinking showed the Coast Guard had become reliant on the ACS’s because of a shortage in their own resources and experience. Further, it was concluded that there was not proper oversight of this program by the Coast Guard, and that the ACS’s were not always operating as expected under the program in terms of the thoroughness of the surveys and experience of the surveyors. This bill will require improved training programs for the Coast Guard, relating to their oversight of ACP and third-party organizations. Another problem with ACP is the gaps between Coast Guard and ACS rules. That was previously addressed through a “Supplement”, but that was often lagging in updates, and there may be several different ones in place. This legislation would move toward one unified Supplement.  The legislation further is requiring an audit of safety management systems, to ensure ships are safe at sea. A portion of safety management required everyone have a full and working knowledge of safety procedures on board, but testimony showed that Polish riding crew members who were on El Faro working to convert her for the Alaskan trade may not have received the full safety training required. There will also be more training for steamship inspections and advanced journeyman inspectors. GALLERY:Photos from the NTSB’s investigation of the El Faro sinking Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who co-sponsored the bill in the Senate, says the bill is designed to prevent a tragedy like this sinking from happening again.  “The families of the El Faro crew deserve much of the credit for getting many of these potentially lifesaving measures through Congress,” he says.  The House previously passed a bill that came from its own Committee work, but Nelson’s office says the Senate’s version is broader in addressing recommendations from both the NTSB and Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation. It is the Senate’s version that was ultimately adopted in the House as well, and sent to the President’s desk. The bill text says, in 2017, there were more than 21,000 deficiencies issued to US commercial vessels, and “no sail” orders were issued to 2,500 US vessels- showing that this problem goes beyond the El Faro.

The Latest News Headlines

  • It's underway all summer. The Blue Star Museums 2019 program has kicked off, allowing the nation's active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve, to visit participating museums free of charge.  The 2019 program officially started on Saturday, May 18th, which is Armed Forces Day, and will run through Labor Day on Monday, September, 2nd.  Locally, military families will be able to visit the following museums free of charge:  Jacksonville  -Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens  -Mandarin Museum & Historical Society  -MOCA Jacksonville  -Ritz Theatre & LaVilla Museum  Jacksonville Beach  -Beaches Museum  St. Augustine  -Lightner Museum  -St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum  To find museums outside of Northeast Florida, click HERE. The Blue Star Museums program is a collaboration among the National Endowment for Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and participating museums.
  • A judge sentenced the man who admitted to killing a Wisconsin couple last year before holding their 13-year-old daughter captive for three months to life in prison without the possibility of supervised release. >> Read more trending news Jake Thomas Patterson, 21, appeared before a Barron County judge for sentencing in the killing of James and Denise Closs and the kidnapping of their daughter, Jayme, according to the Duluth News Tribune. He pleaded guilty in March to two counts of intentional homicide for gunning down James Closs, 56, and Denise Closs, 46, in the early morning hours of Oct. 15. He also pleaded guilty to one count of kidnapping for abducting Jayme. >> Man pleads guilty to kidnapping Wisconsin teen Jayme Closs, killing her parents Update 4:30 p.m. EDT May 24: A judge sentenced Patterson to life in prison without the possibility of parole for each of the intentional homicide charges to which Patterson pleaded guilty. The judge also gave Patterson the maximum sentence -- 40 years -- for kidnapping Jayme. Update 4:20 p.m. EDT May 24: In a brief, tearful statement in court, Patterson said he “would do like, absolutely anything to take back what I did.” “I would die,” he said. “I would.” Patterson’s attorneys asked a judge to sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole until 2072 for the killings of James and Denise Closs. The sentencing hearing is ongoing. Update 3:30 p.m. EDT May 24: In a statement read by an attorney Friday in court, Jayme said Patterson took many things from her but that, “He can never take my spirit away.” “He thought he could make me like him, but he was wrong,” she said. “He can’t stop me from being happy and moving forward with my life. I will go on to do great things in my life, and he will not. Jake Patterson will never have any power over me.” Chris Gramstrup, an attorney representing Jayme, read the victim impact statement in court. “He stole my parents from me,” Jayme said in the statement. “He stole almost everything I loved from me. For 88 days, he tried to steal me, and he didn’t care who he hurt or who he killed to do that. He should stay locked up forever.” Prosecutors said Jayme and her mother heard Patterson shoot and kill James Closs as they huddled together in a bathtub. Denise Closs called 911 as Patterson tried to batter down the bathroom door. Once he broke down the door, he wrestled the phone from Denise Closs and ordered her to tape Jayme’s mouth, hands and feet, prosecutors said. He told authorities that he thought she was doing a bad job, so he put down his shotgun to do it himself. Once Jayme was restrained, authorities said he picked up his shotgun again and, with Jayme feet from her mother, shot Denise Closs in the head. He then dragged Jayme to his car, threw her in the trunk and drove her to his home, where she was held captive for 88 days. Through Gramstrup, Jayme said her parents “did all they could to make me happy and protect me.” “He took them away from me forever,” Jayme said. “I felt safe in my home and I love my room and all of my belongings. He took all of that too. I don’t want to even see my home or my stuff because of the memory of that night. My parents and my home were the most important things in my life.” She said that since her escape in January, “It’s too hard for me to go out in public.” “I get scared and I get anxious,” she said. Prosecutors said Jayme escaped from Patterson’s home Jan. 10 after he left her alone. Original report: Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said members of Jayme’s family are expected to give statements at Friday’s hearing, MPR News reported. The court proceeding is expected to last several hours, according to CNN. Under Wisconsin law, Patterson will face a mandatory life sentence for each of the homicide convictions, the Duluth News Tribune reported. The main question for Friday will be whether Patterson will eventually be eligible for parole, according to the newspaper. >> Who is Jake Thomas Patterson? Suspect in Jayme Closs kidnapping identified Authorities said Patterson admitted to targeting Jayme after seeing her get on a school bus while he was driving home from work one day. He told investigators he did not know the Closses before the attack. Jayme told authorities she woke early on the morning of Oct. 15 when the family dog started barking. She woke her parents and then hid with her mother in a bathroom. Investigators said Patterson shot and killed James Closs before he found Jayme and Denise Closs in the bathroom. >> Jayme Closs kidnapping: Suspect charged in Closs murders, bail set at $5 million Jayme said Patterson killed her mother before dragging her to his car and driving her to what would turn out to be his home in Douglas County. He was arrested after Jayme escaped Jan. 10 from his home and flagged down a woman walking her dog. >> Jayme Closs to be given $25K reward after she saved herself from accused kidnapper Jayme told investigators Patterson made her hide under the bed in his bedroom for as many as 12 hours at a time without food, water or bathroom breaks. She escaped after Patterson left her alone in the home 88 days after he first abducted her. Jayme is living with her aunt and uncle, the Stevens Point Journal reported.
  • The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is actively investigating on the Westside, after a man called 911, claiming he had just shot someone attempting to break into his home. Police say this happened on North Dover Cliff Drive in the Pilgrims Trace neighborhood.  When officers arrived, they say they found a man dead in a nearby roadway. He has not yet been identified, but he's described by JSO as a black male between 30 and 40-years-old.  The investigation is still in its early states, but JSO says it does not appear that the two knew each other. We're told the homeowner is being cooperative with investigation.  Police are asking anyone with information on what happened to come forward.
  • House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said he was OK on Friday after he appeared to nearly faint during a news conference in New York City. >> Read more trending news Nadler, D-N.Y., was appearing Friday at a news conference about plans to expand the city’s use of speed cameras in school zones when New York Mayor Bill de Blasio appeared to notice he looked pale, WABC-TV reported. Video from the news conference showed Nadler looking ill and weak as the mayor asked him if he wanted some water.  The New York Daily News reported that paramedics called a code blue emergency after Nadler appeared to suffer from a brief dizzy spell. He was given water and an orange and later taken by ambulance to Lenox Hill Hospital, according to the Daily News. “Appreciate everyone’s concern,” Nadler said in a statement posted later Friday on Twitter. “Was very warm in the room this morning, was obviously dehydrated and felt a bit ill. Glad to receive fluids and am feeling much better. Thank you for your thoughts.”
  • A Colorado man arrested in Utah earlier this year for threatening to “kill as many girls as (he saw)” has been sentenced to serve up to five years in prison, despite prosecutors’ recommendation that he serve probation.  Christopher Wayne Cleary, 27, of Denver, pleaded guilty to a charge of attempt to make a terroristic threat as part of a plea deal with Utah County prosecutors, according to The Deseret News. Cleary, who was arrested in Provo in January, was already on probation in Colorado on two previous convictions of stalking women, the newspaper reported.  Cleary expressed remorse over his words. “I’m just sorry for what happened,” Cleary told the court, according to the News.  Prosecutors in Utah negotiated a plea deal with Cleary for a third-degree felony charge instead of the second-degree felony with which he was initially charged, the News reported. In exchange for his plea -- which would let them secure a felony conviction -- they agreed to recommend no jail time. The plea bargain was aimed at helping Colorado authorities send Cleary to prison for violating his probation in the stalking cases, the News reported.  >> Related story: Man upset over not having girlfriend accused of mass shooting threat to girls Fourth District Judge Christine Johnson on Thursday declined to take the state up on its recommendation, citing her uncertainty of whether Cleary would serve any jail time for probation violation in Colorado, the newspaper said. “I don’t want to be in the position of guessing what Colorado is going to do,” Johnson said during Cleary’s sentencing hearing.  Cleary was arrested Jan. 19, the same day multiple women’s marches were being held in Utah and throughout the country, based on an alarming Facebook post he wrote the night before, the News said. In the post, he bemoaned his lack of romantic prospects and, like several mass shooters who have targeted women, blamed the opposite sex for his plight. “All I wanted was a girlfriend,” Cleary wrote, according to a police affidavit obtained by The Denver Post. “All I wanted was to be loved, yet no one cares about me. I’m 27 years old and I’ve never had a girlfriend before, and I’m still a virgin. This is why I’m planning on shooting up a public place soon and being the next mass shooter ‘cause I’m ready to die and all the girls the turned me down is going to make it right by killing as many girls as I see.” Another post stated, “There’s nothing more dangerous than (a) man ready to die,” the Post reported.  Cleary’s threats alarmed state and federal authorities in Colorado and neighboring Utah, where they traced his cellphone the following day. He was arrested at a McDonald’s in Provo and charged with making a terroristic threat.  Following his arrest, Cleary told investigators he was “upset and not thinking clearly” when he wrote the Facebook posts. According to the Post, he deleted the threats after other people called him and threatened him. Court records obtained by multiple newspapers paint a disturbing portrait of Cleary, who was accused of stalking and harassment by at least eight women and girls dating back at least seven years. The News reported that Cleary was also accused of threatening to bomb a grocery store in 2013 and threatened to commit a mass shooting at a mental health facility in 2016.  >> Read more trending news An 18-year-old Arvada woman called police on New Year’s Eve 2015 and reported that Cleary, with whom she’d been chatting on Facebook, began harassing her online and over the phone after she declined to go on a date with him. According to the Post, the woman told detectives he would use aliases, including one alias on Facebook named John Coleman. “I’ve been watching you,” the person claiming to be Coleman wrote to her on Facebook. “Soon here, you’ll be lying in your deathbed.” During that investigation, Arvada detectives found details of a previous criminal investigation in which Cleary told another woman who spurned his advances she should kill herself, the Post reported. He also posted her name and phone number in an online sex ad, offering her services for $20, court records show. In a prior misdemeanor harassment case from earlier in 2015, Cleary was convicted after talking a woman into posing naked for him and then posting the picture to a fake Facebook page in her name, the newspaper reported.  A harassment case from Denver found Cleary accused of writing threatening messages to a 17-year-old girl, including a message that said, “I own multipul (sic) guns. I can have u dead in a second. One day I’ma snap and kill everyone,” according to court documents. A second Denver case involved a 19-year-old woman who said she lived with Cleary in a hotel room for two weeks, during which time he choked her and urinated on her, the court documents said.  Cleary was convicted in October 2016 on two counts of stalking and harassment involving two of the three alleged victims in Arvada, the Post said. He was sentenced to two years of probation.  Cleary was arrested in yet another stalking case less than a year later. A 43-year-old Lakewood woman who had dated him called 911 Aug. 5, 2017, to report Cleary was stalking her. He was arrested outside the woman’s house. According to the Post, Cleary told investigators the woman was the only person who loved him and he was lonely without her. The woman told police she and Cleary had a sexual relationship -- contradicting Cleary’s claim earlier this year that he was a virgin. The victim told police Cleary, who began stalking her when she broke off the relationship, had called her 45 times that day, threatening her and telling her he hoped she would die.  “I am going to burn your house down,” Cleary told her, according to court records. “I am going to send people to your house to kill you.” Cleary also posted her phone number and address on Craigslist “soliciting sexual acts and rape,” according to a probable cause statement in the case. The woman said she’d received multiple phone calls from strangers due to the ad. The woman told police she lost 20 pounds and began having nightmares and anxiety attacks because of the stalking, the Post reported.  Cleary pleaded guilty to charges of felony stalking and making threats, the newspaper said. A judge in Jefferson County sentenced him last May to three years of probation.  Despite having violated his probation on the Arvada cases, he was not jailed following his guilty plea in the case involving the Lakewood woman, the Post reported. Pam Russell, a spokeswoman for the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, said Cleary’s mental health played a part in his sentencing in that case, as well as in his 2016 stalking conviction, which was handled in Adult Mental Health Court.  “The courts decided to let his mental health issues be a big component of his treatment,” Russell told the Post.  Cleary’s defense attorney in the most recent case, Dustin Parmley, said this week that his client’s violent words are related to his mental illness, which he was reportedly diagnosed with at age 10. Cleary told investigators he takes medication for an impulse control disorder.  Parmley said Cleary’s words have never turned to action. Investigators found no evidence that Cleary had weapons or attempted to obtain any, the Post said.  The newspaper reported that four of the criminal investigations into Cleary ended without charges filed against him.  Cleary will serve his time in Utah before being transferred to Colorado to face probation violation charges there, the News reported. An official with the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole told the paper his earliest hearing could take place as soon as September. The News said the board could potentially set a release date at that time, or members could decide to keep him in prison. Cleary could serve the entire five years of his sentence before being returned to Colorado. 

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