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El Faro Hearings Start Tuesday; Mark First Major Coast Guard Probe Since BP Oil Spill

Cyd Hoskinson

More than four months after the El Faro cargo ship sank in the Caribbean, Coast Guard officials are gearing up for hearings next week in Jacksonville to find out why.

The board only investigates the most devastating cases.

Tuesday is the start of a 10-day hearing into how and why 33 crew members of the El Faro died en route from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico. The ship lost power and drifted into the path of Hurricane Joaquin in early October.

The sinking raised questions of whether the ship was safe and if the captain was coerced into taking the dangerous path.

U.S. Coast Guard Commander Jeff Bray sits on the Marine Board of Investigation. He says the full board only investigates a disaster once every five or 10 years.

“We do lots of formal, one-man board investigations, but the Marine Board of Investigation is reserved for this level of casualty. The last one, as I said, was the Deepwater Horizon, with 11 people dying and the oil spill and things like that,” Bray says.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) announced this week the National Transportation Safety Board is also restarting its search for the ship’s voice data recorder in hopes of finding more clues. 

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.