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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.

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  • Two jail guards tasked with monitoring wealthy financier and accused child predator Jeffrey Epstein on the night he committed suicide were arrested Tuesday and accused of falsifying records to hide the fact that they apparently slept during their shifts and browsed the internet instead of conducting mandated inmate checks. >> Read more trending news  Prosecutors said guards Tova Noel and Michael Thomas falsified records at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York to make it appear as though they carried out the required checks every half-hour on Aug. 9-10. Instead, authorities said, they spent 'substantial portions of their shifts' sitting at their desks, browsing the internet and moving around the common area of the jail's Special Housing Unit. During one two-hour period, the indictment said, both appeared to have been asleep. 'As alleged, the defendants had a duty to ensure the safety and security of federal inmates in their care at the Metropolitan Correctional Center,' U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement. 'Instead, they repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction.' Authorities said video surveillance from the jail showed that no one checked on Epstein between at least 10:30 p.m. Aug. 9 and 6:30 a.m. Aug. 10, despite U.S. Bureau of Prisons protocol mandating inmate checks every half-hour. When Noel and Thomas went to serve inmates breakfast just after 6:30 a.m., they found Epstein dead in his cell with a noose around his neck, prosecutors said. Montell Figgens, a lawyer for Thomas, told The Associated Press both guards are being “scapegoated.” 'We feel this a rush to judgment by the U.S. attorney's office,' he said. 'They're going after the low man on the totem pole here.' U.S. Attorney General William Barr vowed earlier this year to investigate Epstein's death and some 'serious irregularities' in his treatment at MCC. In August, Barr announced the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons had been replaced and reassigned. Epstein died weeks after an earlier suicide attempt, according to investigators. Officers found him with a strip of bedsheet around his neck in July after he apparently tried to hang himself, authorities said in the indictment unsealed Tuesday. Officials briefly placed Epstein on suicide watch after the July suicide attempt, though that status had been lifted before Epstein's suicide in August. Epstein had been housed at MCC since his arrest in July on federal sex trafficking charges. He had been accused of sexually abusing and exploiting dozens of girls as young as age 14 between 2002 and 2005. He had pleaded not guilty and was preparing to argue that he could not be charged because of a 2008 deal he made to avoid federal prosecution on similar allegations in Florida. Epstein’s death prompted a whirl of conspiracy theories from people, including members of Epstein’s family and some of his alleged victims, who questioned whether it was possible that he’d killed himself in such a high-security setting. His death was considered a major embarrassment for the Bureau of Prisons, according to the AP. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • The Clay County Sheriff's Office says it has identified a person of interest, nearly a month after a Fleming Island woman was reported missing. Deputies say Susan Mauldin was last seen on October 23 and was reported missing from the Eagle Harbor area the following day. At that time, detectives said they did not believe that Mauldin was in danger.  But now, the sheriff's office says their detectives have identified a person of interest in Mauldin's disappearance, which it says has 'mysterious' circumstances associated with it.  'The facts and circumstances developed during the course of this investigation led us to believe an individual, identified as Corey Binderim, has pertinent information related to this case. Mr. Binderim has cooperated during the course of this investigation, but until recently, he's left the area all of sudden, with no explanation and his whereabouts are unknown at this time, ' says Detective Howard Fryer.  The sheriff's office says their investigation revealed that Mauldin wasn't the type of woman to wander off and has missed several medical appointments.  'She would tell her friends if she had any plans to travel and there's no signs of financial transactions or travel plans made. Mr. Binderim's association with Susan Mauldin was, he is a contractor, contracted to perform a remodeling job in her bathroom. During the course of that contract, he failed to perform all the work. He took a deposit from her, which during the course of that, Ms. Mauldin determined she didn't want to work with him anymore and requested her money back. There's no indication during the course of our investigation that Ms. Mauldin left her home, willingly. Her vehicle is still at the house. There were signs that she was to be there at the house, with no indications of leaving,' says Fryer.  Anyone with information about Mauldin's or Binderim's whereabouts is urged to contact the sheriff's office.
  • A 16-year-old girl has been arrested after authorities discovered her plan to kill people at a predominantly black church in Hall County. >> Read more trending news  The teen, who is white, planned to attack the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, according to Gainesville police. “Our investigation indicated the church was targeted by the juvenile based on the racial demographic of the church members,” police Chief Jay Parrish said Tuesday in a news release. “The church was immediately notified of the incident by Gainesville police to ensure the safety of our community and the current threat was under control.” Students at Gainesville High School told school administrators that the girl had a notebook with “detailed plans to commit murder” at the church, Parrish said. Administrators notified school resource officers of the plan on Friday and opened an investigation. They verified the threat and turned the investigation over to Gainesville police, who took the girl into custody, Parrish said. Her name has not been released. The teen was charged with criminal attempt to commit murder and taken to the Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center. “This is an active investigation and a prime example of how strong relationships between the student body, school administration and law enforcement can intercept a potentially horrific incident,” Parrish said.
  • President Donald Trump checked into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Saturday for medical tests as part of his annual physical, White House officials said. >> Read more trending news   The trip, which was not on the president's public schedule, sparked speculation about the 73-year-old's health. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Trump is 'anticipating a very busy 2020' and wanted to take advantage of 'a free weekend' in Washington to begin portions of his routine checkup. Here are the latest updates: Update 12:45 p.m. EST Nov. 19: At a Cabinet Meeting on Tuesday, President Donald Trump complained about speculation that he might have suffered a heart attack over the weekend. Speculation swirled after Trump visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for two hours Saturday. The trip had not been on Trump's public schedule, though White House officials said the visit was routine. 'I went and did a very routine -- just a piece of it, the rest takes place in January -- very routine physical,' he said, according to CNN. When he returned to the White House, he said, 'I get greeted with the news, 'We understand you had a heart attack.'' 'These people are sick and the press really in this country is dangerous,' Trump said. 'We don't have freedom of the press in this country. We have the opposite. We have a very corrupt media.' Update 11:33 p.m. EST Nov. 18: In a memorandum, President Donald Trump's physician said Monday the president's visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Saturday was merely part of a 'routine, planned interim checkup, several media outlets reported. 'This past Saturday afternoon the President traveled up to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a routine, planned interim checkup as part of the regular, primary preventative care he receives throughout the year,' Sean P. Conley wrote in the memo, CBS News reported. 'Due to scheduling uncertainties, the trip was kept off the record. 'Despite some of the speculation, the President has not had any chest pain, nor was he evaluated or treated for any urgent or acute issues,' Conley wrote. 'Specifically, he did not undergo any specialized cardiac or neurologic evaluations.'  Update 2:05 p.m. EST Nov. 18: White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham deflected rumors about President Donald Trump's health, saying it is “absolutely not” true that the president's visit to a doctor Saturday was anything other than a routine procedure, The Washington Post reported. Grisham also said the President is “healthy as can be,' the newspaper reported. In a statement Saturday, Grisham said Trump, 73, had “a quick exam and labs” and “remains healthy and energetic without complaints, as demonstrated by his repeated vigorous rally performances in front of thousands of Americans several times a week,” the Post reported. Grisham said rumors about the president 'are always flying.' 'He is healthy as can be,' Grisham told Fox News Channel host Jeanine Pirro on Saturday. 'I put a statement out about that. He’s got more energy than anybody in the White House. That man works from 6 a.m. until, you know, very, very late at night. He’s doing just fine.” Update 12:56 a.m. EST Nov. 17: Trump took to Twitter early Sunday, just hours after his visit to Walter Reed Medical Center. 'Visited a great family of a young man under major surgery at the amazing Walter Reed Medical Center,' he tweeted shortly after midnight. 'Those are truly some of the best doctors anywhere in the world. Also began phase one of my yearly physical. Everything very good (great!). Will complete next year.' According to The Associated Press, the two-hour appointment did not appear on the president's public schedule like his previous annual physicals.  Original story: 'Anticipating a very busy 2020, the President is taking advantage of a free weekend here in Washington, D.C., to begin portions of his routine annual physical exam at Walter Reed,' Stephanie Grisham, White House press secretary, said in a statement, CNN reported. Trump’s last physical was in February at Walter Reed. He weighed 243 pounds with a body mass index of 29.9, and 30 is considered obese, USA Today reported. He also had increased his use of a statin that helps control his cholesterol. 'I am happy to announce the president of the United States is in very good health and I anticipate he will remain so for the duration of his presidency, and beyond,' Dr. Sean Conley, the president’s physician, wrote at the time.  The visit Saturday is different than the president’s previous physicals. The last two physicals were announced beforehand and noted on the president’s calendar. Trump usually takes the Marine One helicopter to Walter Reed, but this time, a motorcade dropped him off unannounced, CNN reported. 
  • One of two women accused of cutting an infant out of an expectant mother's womb earlier this year has given birth to a child of her own, according to multiple reports. >> Read more trending news  Cook County Sheriff's Office spokesman Joseph Ryan told the Chicago Tribune that Desiree Figueroa, 25, gave birth Nov. 1 at the John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County. She has been in custody since May, when she and her mother, Clarisa Figueroa, were arrested and charged in the death of 19-year-old Marlen Ochoa-Lopez. Desiree Figueroa has since been returned to jail, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Additional information was not immediately available. Prosecutors said Clarisa Figueroa, 46, lured Ochoa-Lopez to her home on Chicago's Southwest Side in April after they met through a Facebook group geared toward young mothers. Authorities said the Figueroas strangled Ochoa-Lopez and cut her baby from her womb. Clarisa Figueroa later called 911 to falsely claim she'd given birth to a child who was not breathing, investigators said. Tests later confirmed the newborn was Ochoa-Lopez's son. The baby, named Yovanny Jadiel Lopez, died in June of severe brain injury. Both Figeuroas have been charged with one count each of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, dismembering a human body and concealing a homicidal death. They pleaded not guilty to the charges on June 26, the Tribune reported. Clarisa Figueroa's boyfriend, 40-year-old Piotr Bobak, was also arrested and charged with one count of concealment of a homicide. He has also pleaded not guilty, according to WTTW.

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