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Nelson Considers Reforms To Maritime Law Following Sinking Of El Faro

NelsonElFaro.JPG
Ryan Benk
/
WJCT News

Florida Senator Bill Nelson may propose reforms to maritime law to address safety concerns after the sinking of the El Faro cargo ship.

Nelson was in Jacksonville Friday to tour a similar ship owned by the same company as the El Faro.

Nelson observed the El Yunque for a half-hour before meeting with National Transportation Safety Board officials at JAXPORT.

He said after getting a closer look at the similar ship, he’s confident the El Faro was fit to sail. But he questioned why the freighter launched its voyage after the Coast Guard warned of the impending hurricane.

“The final communication came somewhere around 7:00-7:05 in the morning of Oct. 1,” Nelson said. “The hurricane would have been close to the ship at that point.”

Nelson says he wonders whether the ship’s captain was pressured into sailing through dangerous conditions. But without the El Faro’s voyage data recorder, nothing can be confirmed.

Still Nelson says he’s considering amending the Jones Act, which in part governs maritime safety.

“Do we from a matter of maritime safety need to start requiring, for example, the updated life preserver systems?” Nelson asked.

Nelson furthermore said he wants to look into regulating how older ships are retrofitted to withstand rough seas. But he said he’s waiting first on the results of the federal investigation into the sinking that claimed the lives of 33 crew members. 

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.