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Old 10-06-2015, 01:47 PM   #1
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El Faro Sinking

I know there are a number of professional mariners and Coast Guardsmen on TF. I've been reading about the El Faro incident. It leaves me with 2 major questions:

1) The obvious question as to why she sailed, as near as I can tell from the info I can find, directly into the forecast path of an intensifying storm? I get that time is money and there was, I suppose, substantial management pressure to stay on schedule. I assume that a merchant captain has ultimate authority to take action to avoid hazarding his ship. And. it doesn't sound like he was a new guy. Was his decision as foolhardy (with the benefit of blinding 20/20 hindsight) as it seems to me, or was it a reasoned and calculated risk that went sour?

2) Living in NOLA, there is a ton of merchant traffic in and out of the port. I find it fascinating the number of events that occur wherein a vessel "loses all power" and has the resultant collision/allision. The narrative goes: "We lost propulsion. Then the ship went dark and we lost steering. Then we tried to drop the anchor, but it wouldn't set. Then we hit (fill in the blank)."

Having scant knowledge about how merchant vessels are operated and equipped, I'd be interested to hear the informed view on El Faro.
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Old 10-06-2015, 02:33 PM   #2
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There is a good conversation on CF about the sinking.

Safety of Ships' Lifeboats in Major Storms - Cruisers & Sailing Forums

Later,
Dan
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Old 10-06-2015, 02:49 PM   #3
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Most interesting - lots of good references - but still doesn't get to my questions. Appreciate it, Dan.
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Old 10-06-2015, 02:51 PM   #4
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Here is where you're going to find more informed answers to your questions.

Sea Star's El Faro - Page 45
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Old 10-06-2015, 03:11 PM   #5
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Greetings,
Mr. 11. I heard the same thing on another site that the master was, shall we say, less than capable. That being said, I reserve judgement until an official inquiry is tabled. I didn't want to and I still don't want to "tsk..tsk" until all the facts are known. Many a career has been ruined by idle rumors...In defense of the captain, I also read that the run was estimated to be 24hrs and when the ship departed was within a "safe" window for a passage. So it may have been as Mr. 22 stated "...a reasoned and calculated risk that went sour."
This unfortunate situation resembles in many ways, the Bounty disaster.
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Old 10-06-2015, 03:34 PM   #6
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Greetings,
Mr. 11. I heard the same thing on another site that the master was, shall we say, less than capable.

This unfortunate situation resembles in many ways, the Bounty disaster.
It's a tad early to be commenting on the capabilities of the presumed dead master. Especially with third or more hand information.

As to this situation being anything like what befell the Bounty, only very remotely are they anything alike.
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Old 10-06-2015, 03:36 PM   #7
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Most interesting - lots of good references - but still doesn't get to my questions. Appreciate it, Dan.
I don't think the questions will be answered until after the accident report is published, and even then, I suspect there will be some unknowns. The report should lay out the ships course and speed along with the position, course and speed of the hurricane as well as the different forecast paths for the storm.

It seems that the course the ship would have to take to get to its destination, with the hurricane bobbing around in the way, is problematic. This storm just sat roughly in place for days which I suspect threw of the ships passages but that will be in the accident report.

Later,
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Old 10-06-2015, 04:15 PM   #8
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Thanks, Capn Bill - gCaptain appears to be the TF of the merchant fleet. It appears that El Faro, under a different name, was previously a steady player on the Seattle - Alaska route. A steam propelled 40 year old vessel. It's going to take me a week to read through all the gCaptain posts and references.
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Old 10-06-2015, 06:13 PM   #9
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If you are interested, you can go to the Marine Traffic web page and get the last reported position and speed of the El Faro. My son is a chief engineer and this is how I track his ships.
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Old 10-06-2015, 06:35 PM   #10
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It's a tad early to be commenting on the capabilities of the presumed dead master. Especially with third or more hand information.
Well said Bill.
Just a very tragic event and I feel so sorry for the families.

The link you posted has a timely entry from c.captain on page 48 #568; a frank, honest self evaluation that points out the pitfalls of not thinking ahead and considering the "what ifs."

...this is where I relive my own failure to heed storm warnings in the Gulf of Alaska and go out of Cape Spencer when I had no good reason to and where foolishly I risked a ship as well as the lives of all aboard her needlessly...it wasn't bravado I felt that me and my ship could take on the worst the weather Gods could throw at us but simply a failure to see what was ahead of us if I held on. Had we lost propulsion that night or steering, the ship would have gone down without a trace and with all 65 souls I was trusted to protect. I was young though and had not built up enough experience to know better but Davidson was not young and should have stopped sooner. The machinery casualty is what killed them all but I believe it was the master placing the EL FARO into a perilous place that gave the plant that power to save or destroy just as I had allowed but I was lucky and we did not have a machinery casualty nor even any significant damage although many on the ship believed that night was going to be there last. Strangely for me, I was not afraid at all that night but the motions were the worst I ever experienced at sea in 30+ years...I was just oblivious to the danger we faced if the engines quit. A TERRIBLE JUDGEMENT ERROR AND FAILURE ON MY PART AND SOMETHING I NEVER REPEATED.
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Old 10-06-2015, 07:42 PM   #11
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I know it sound cynical, but I hope the families get a chance to process their loss before the the news channels start hounding them for interviews. As a secondary concern, I wonder about the lost containers and how that could affect the navigation in the area by other vessels involved in the search or even recreational boats on passage.
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Old 10-06-2015, 08:13 PM   #12
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If you want a look inside the industry's heads, there is an old book out there called "super ship" worth a read. Before anyone starts throwing darts please have a look at the time line of what was forecast and what developed. If you spend enough time out there a poor forecast will eventually catch you flat footed. Keep praying, it's not over quite yet. Bill
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Old 10-06-2015, 08:49 PM   #13
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As I recall the storm increased from a tropical storm to a Cat4 much faster than anyone expected. When they left port I imagine the Captain was expecting to hit a topical storm or Cat 1 which the ship should have been able to handle. I think he was caught off guard by how quickly the storm intensified.

I think that would explain why he left port and headed into the storm. What it doesn't explain is why he continued into it as it intensified. The storm was very slow moving.
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Old 10-06-2015, 09:09 PM   #14
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I think he was caught off guard by how quickly the storm intensified.
There was chatter in another thread here, during the storm, about how the European forecasters were far more accurate than the Americans.
I wonder if he/they were just ill-informed.
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Old 10-06-2015, 09:12 PM   #15
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There's a lot not explained and too often finances are involved, whether as incentive to go or as to engine problems or inability to continue to communicate. What I found more bothersome in many respects was all the cruise ships still in the area, waiting until Thursday and Friday to miss a call, staying at sea and some even returning guests to Nassau or Freeport. Meanwhile the more responsible cruise ships changed their itineraries and went to the Western Caribbean.
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Old 10-06-2015, 09:23 PM   #16
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There was chatter in another thread here, during the storm, about how the European forecasters were far more accurate than the Americans.
I wonder if he/they were just ill-informed.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs...r-forecasting/

A good article comparing the two. And, yes, the European forecast was more accurate in this case. However, the other forecasts would have actually brought it closer to the East Coast so the inaccuracy of the US forecasts would not appear to have been a factor. The fact it was CAT 4 vs. CAT 3 really shouldn't have been a factor in decision making. I think you'd choose to avoid both equally, given the choice.

Now, there are reasons the European forecasts are overall more accurate (not always though). "The European model has a more powerful computer, better model physics and a superior system for bringing in data."
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Old 10-07-2015, 01:34 AM   #17
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This is NOTHING like the Bounty.

The El Faro would have handled a tropical storm without a problem and a cat 1 would have just been a few bumps. They left Jacksonville and the weather showed the storm eventually growing into a hurricane and showed it still moving south, but the El Faro would have been out of the storm by then. The storm grew bigger and faster than anyone expected and didn't follow the path it was forecasted to follow.
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Old 10-07-2015, 09:19 AM   #18
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There is a huge "rest of the story" we are missing. Lost propulsion, listing, taking on water. What was the timing. How long had it been without propulsion before reporting it? Was it listing immediately or at the same time? Why? What about taking on water? How was it loaded? Why no more communication? If they lost propulsion and then a day later the hurricane hit them it's one thing but if they were already in the hurricane at the time they lost it, quite another. When they reported the lost power and the listing, the storm had already intensified. Something else happened that we don't know. Was there a fire? Explosion? Did they hit something? Why was so little information shared with the CG? Conflicting information such as him communicating that he had a sound plan but then that the changed direction and strength of the hurricane was known within two hours of him leaving. We just don't know.

And we don't know what it wasn't either, since we don't know what it was. I am bothered when the owner of the company makes statements as to what it wasn't, such as it wasn't work being done on the engine (work was being done in the engine room during the voyage), it wasn't the speed, it wasn't the age, it wasn't the lengthening of the ship by 90 feet. If you don't know what it was, you don't know what it wasn't and just as there is no place for speculation as to who did what or who is at fault, there is no place for spin doctoring by the owner.

There is a factor in play that we don't know about. Perhaps we will after the investigation is completed months from now or perhaps we never will.
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Old 10-07-2015, 12:10 PM   #19
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The lack of survivors in survival suits, the lack of comms, implies that things went bad fast. Just one message off about the loss of the steam plant, flooding, list. Then nothing.

So far things indicate a capsize.

Here's an interesting read from 1945 regarding a loss of warships in a Pacific typhoon. Some parallels to this incident. I also like Adm Nimitz's writing style. First rate guy on many levels.

Admiral Nimitz's Pacific Fleet Confidential Letter on Lessons of Damage in Typhoon
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Old 10-07-2015, 01:14 PM   #20
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El Faro Sinking

33 aboard seems to to me be a large crew, is that a usual number for a ship that size and type ?
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