U.S. Coast Guard resumes probe into El Faro ship sinking

Reuters News
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Posted: May 16, 2016 7:08 AM

By Letitia Stein

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - U.S. Coast Guard investigators are resuming their probe of the deadly sinking of a cargo ship during a hurricane last fall, with two weeks of hearings to examine ship operations, weather forecasts and regulatory oversight getting under way on Monday.

Some two dozen maritime experts are set to testify during a second round of hearings before the Coast Guard's Marine Board of Investigation on the worst cargo shipping disaster involving a U.S.-flagged vessel in more than three decades.

All 33 crew on board died in the sinking of the El Faro off the Bahamas on Oct. 1 last year. The 790-foot (241-meter) ship went down in a hurricane while on a cargo run between Florida and Puerto Rico.

During its first meeting in February, the panel heard the final phone call of the ship's doomed captain, Michael Davidson, a veteran mariner from Maine, who warned as his vessel took on water that the "clock was ticking."

Executives with the ship's operator, Tote Services, testified that the captain was responsible for decisions leading to the disaster.

The Coast Guard panel meeting in Jacksonville, Florida, is looking for evidence of negligence or misconduct, as well as the cause of the sinking. Convened only for the most serious disasters, the investigation board plans a third set of hearings at a yet unscheduled date.

By then, it hopes to have evidence from the ship's voyage data recorder, which may contain information from the ship's final hours and communications from its bridge before the sinking. The recorder has been located in 15,000 feet (4,600 meters) of water off the Bahamas, but authorities have not yet been able to retrieve it.

Ultimately, the Coast Guard panel expects to issue a report and could make recommendations on safety standards to prevent a similar disaster in the future.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Leslie Adler)