Lost Cargo Ship Found Deeper in the Ocean than the Titanic
Breakthrough in Search for El Faro
At the beginning of October we blogged about the El Faro, a cargo ship that was lost in Hurricane Joaquin. Now, at the beginning of November, we share that the ship has been found on the bottom of the ocean.
33 crew members were on board the El Faro when it set sail from Jacksonville, Florida to transport 391 shipping containers to San Juan, Puerto Rico. 28 of the crew members were Americans and 5 were Poles.
The Coast Guard performed a search and rescue mission, but having only found one body called off their efforts 6 days after communication with the El Faro was lost.
An end to the search and rescue operation did not mean an end to searching for the lost ship or investigations into how the El Faro found itself helpless in the path of the category 4 Hurricane Joaquin. Finally, a breackthrough came.
Search crews using sonar over the weekend found wreckage that appeared to resemble a 790-foot cargo ship in an upright position, the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] said. The Navy used a special sub, the CURV 21, to positively identify the wreckage as that of El Faro, [Navy spokesman Christopher Johnson] said.
Search for Answers to Cargo Ship’s Loss
That the El Faro was found at the bottom of the ocean in an upright position came as a surprise and would indicate the cargo ship sank very quickly.
David Gallo of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts commented on the condition of the El Faro in a question and answer session with Bob Salberg of the Associated Press on Monday. Here are Gallo’s comments on the condition of the ship from the interview published on U.S. News:
They know its sitting upright, which is odd. It’s in one piece. That part surprised me, because typically when it sinks like that it will be crushed by the pressure. So any air pockets inside the ship would be crushed, unless the ship is thoroughly filled with water so there is nothing for the ocean to crush. This would suggest to me that the hull filled fairly quickly with water and the ship sank fairly quickly. It didn’t go down slowly with air pockets.
Between this evidence that the ship went down quickly and the lack of bodies found during the search, there is a strong possibility that the bodies of crew members could be found in the ship. Attempts will be made to recover any bodies still on board.
Of course, that will be no easy task as CNN reports the ship is 2.8 miles under the ocean’s surface. That’s deeper than divers could go. Salsberg, in his AP article, emphasizes Gallo’s point that the 15,000 feet below where the El Faro sits is deeper than the Titanic’s final resting place.
On top of recovering the crew’s bodies for the grieving families, the U.S. Navy is trying to retrieve El Faro’s data recorder. The data recorder on a ship is like the black box on an airplane and could be instrumental in unraveling the events that led to the sinking of the cargo ship.
Gallo describes how the investigation of the ship and search for the data recorder and crew will proceed to the AP:
They are going to use a robot called CURV (the U.S. Navy’s Cable-controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle). They will start … looking and documenting the damage of the ship and trying to describe it. They are starting in a way to collect forensic information.
It’s going to be difficult to get into that ship. They are going to have to find a way in, and if they can’t find a way in they have the ability to cut their way in.
A submarine could get to that depth, and I think this is one of those cases where a submarine is pretty well suited to do that kind of work.
Crew’s Families & Ship Owner Battle in Court
Meanwhile, a legal battle is ensuing between TOTE Maritime, the company that owns El Faro, and the families of the lost crew.
Just before federal officials announced over the weekend that the U.S. Navy would send a special submersible to search the ocean floor, lawyers for TOTE Maritime, which owns El Faro, filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court in Florida saying it did everything in its power to ensure the ship was safe and thus should bear no financial liability in regard to the families’ claims.
The company’s complaint says it “exercised due diligence” to make sure the 40-year-old vessel was seaworthy and well-equipped for its September 29 trip from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and should thus be “(exonerated) from liability for any and all losses or damages sustained during the voyage … and from any and all claims for damages that have been or may hereafter be made.”
Families of four crew members have already filed lawsuits against TOTE on the grounds that El Faro had a shoddy maintenance history and was reckless for knowingly sailing toward a hurricane.
But TOTE’s court action Friday would prevent any other families from doing the same until a judge rules on the complaint, according to Kurt Arnold, an attorney representing the family of one of those four crew members.
For a real quick sum up, some El Faro crew families have already filed lawsuits against the company that owned the ship, TOTE. TOTE then filed a claim to put down these lawsuits and prevent more from being filed, or at least limit the company’s financial liability.
This appears to be just the beginning of a long legal battle. A counterclaim was quickly filed to hold TOTE responsible.
CNN’s article shares the position of the lawyers and families in the counterclaim:
“We will seek to hold the ship owners responsible for every single penny that they owe to these families,” attorney Michael Winkleman told reporters.
His suit states that El Faro was overdue for repair work and overloaded with cargo. It claims the ship owners knew about, considered, but ultimately ignored dangerous weather conditions.
“We expect this to be a long fight and we intend to fight this as long as it takes,” said Winkleman. “This is a tragedy that could have been and should have been prevented.”
Worst U.S. Maritime Tragedy in Over 30 Years
It has been a long time since an American maritime tragedy like this has occurred.
According to the Los Angeles Times:
The Oct. 1 loss of the El Faro with all hands aboard was the first sinking of an American-flagged ship since the Marine Electric went down off the coast of Virginia in 1983.
Hopefully, the data recorder will be recovered and shed more light on this tragedy and keep it from being repeated in the future.
Source: UC Blog