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National Transportation Safety Board Set To Review Report Into El Faro Sinking On Tuesday

El Faro hull underwater
The National Transportation Safety Board

The National Transportation Safety Board, as expected, will review and possibly release portions of its final draft report investigating the 2015 sinking of the El Faro cargo ship, which took the lives of 33 sailors, most from Jacksonville.

The board’s report, according to a media release, represents 30,500 hours of “investigative work” and cost taxpayers close to $6 million. The report will make more than 50 safety recommendations and produce more than 70 investigative findings.

NTSB officials have released an official agenda for a December 12 meeting in Washington, D.C. meeting and say they’ve identified six major safety issues associated with the accident:

1.    The Captain’s actions.

2.    Currency of weather information.

3.    Bridge team management.

4.    Company oversight.

5.    Damage control plans.

6.    Survivalcraft suitability.

These are mostly the same issues the Coast Guard’s Marine Board of Investigation looked into while producing its report after three widely-publicized meetings at Jacksonville’s Prime Osborn Covention Center.

A spokesperson with the NTSB tells WJCT News the full report isn’t necessarily scheduled to be released next week, but instead the public should expect a “synopsis” that should contain the major findings and safety recommendations.

The meeting will be lengthy, the spokesperson said, and it is possible board members could find discrepancies they want to further review — possibly pushing back the release of such a synopsis.

The Coast Guard’s final draft report, pending review of the Commandant, produced just under 40 recommendations, including requiring more Coast Guard oversight on commercial shipping inspections, no longer exempting older vessels from stability standards or from using closed, self-propelled lifeboats — a requirement for new ships since 1986.

The NTSB does not assign fault, but its report will include a finding of probable cause for the ship’s sinking. It can make recommendations to industries and regulatory industries but does not have the force of law — NTSB recommendations are mainly concerned with safety. Whereas the Coast Guard report can recommend fines or regulatory actions against entities, even if it can’t impose them independently, an NTSB spokesperson said.

The 790-foot El Faro set sail from Jacksonville, Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico on Sept. 29 and sank a little more than a day later.

Below is the NTSB’s board agenda:

·         Chairman’s opening remarks

·         Opening Statement

·         Accident Overview

·         Engineering Factors

·         Flooding and Damage Control

·         Damage Control Stability

·         Survival Factors

·         Board Member questions with investigative staff

·         Lunch

·         Electronic Data

·         Meteorology

·         Company Oversight and Bridge Team Management

·         Captain’s Decision Making

·         Board Member questions with investigative staff

·         Board Member deliberation on findings

·         Probable Cause

·         Board Member deliberation on probable cause

·         Board Member deliberation on safety recommendations

·         Chairman’s closing remarks

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.