First Coast Connect: El Faro Captain Faced Pressure To Deliver On Time

Aug 21, 2017

Credit National Transportation Safety Board

  The National Transportation Safety Board released more findings Friday regarding the sinking of the El Faro after holding two rounds of hearings in Jacksonville.

The ship sank near the Bahamas in early October of 2015 after it lost power and drifted into the path of Hurricane Joaquin while en route from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico.

Throughout the hearing, representatives of the ship’s operator, TOTE Maritime, repeatedly said the captain alone could make any and all decisions related to ship operations.

But the new report suggests Capt. Michael Davidson and many other El Faro officers were told their futures were uncertain as the company replaced old ships with new ones, and he may have felt pressured to continue in less-than-perfect conditions.

On “First Coast Connect” Monday, Jacksonville maritime attorney Rod Sullivan, who represented the family of one of the 33 crew members who died, said that must have put tremendous pressure on the captain to reach Puerto Rico on schedule.

“Put yourself in the shoes of this captain. He initially had been told he’d be out of a job once the El Faro was laid up, and then in August they said, ‘Well, we’re going to reconsider and we’re going to re-interview you,’” Sullivan said. “So he’s got to be worried there, you know? “‘I turn this ship around, if I cost the company $100,000 by coming in six, eight or 12 hours later, I’m never going to get that job.’”

Sullivan said he was also surprised by the workload on the ship.

According to the report the officer’s workload averaged between 12 and 13 hours a day. The average workload for an unlicensed person was 11 hours a day. The typical work schedule was a rotation of ten weeks on the ship, ten weeks off.   

The report also contained text messages and emails from the captain, showing he was aware of the impending storm but didn’t anticipate it causing much trouble.

The full NTSB report is expected to released later this year.

Kevin Meerschaert can be reached at kmeerschaert@wjct.org, 904-358-6334 or on Twitter at @KMeerschaertJax.