A Month After Coast Guard Releases El Faro Report, Sen. Bill Nelson Promises Legislation

Nov 3, 2017

A month after the U.S. Coast Guard released its final report on the sinking of cargo freighter El Faro, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said he plans to file legislation.

But Nelson isn’t clear on exactly when or what kinds of measures he’d like to see implemented legislatively for a safer shipping industry.

Cargo ship El Faro, owned and operated by TOTE Maritime, sank two years ago on its way to San Juan, Puerto Rico after losing propulsion and drifting into the path of a category 4 hurricane.

After three Marine Board of Investigation hearings in Jacksonville, which included members of the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board, a list of 39 recommendations were released last month.

Nelson said he intends to file a bill banning a ship from leaving port if a hurricane threatens its course, but he could provide few specifics.

“You don't leave port if you’ve got an incoming hurricane without knowing exactly what your route is and your plan of escape. That’s what got El Faro. They under, erroneous or late, outdated weather reports sailed right into the middle of that hurricane,” he said.

Nelson is the ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction over shipping and the Coast Guard.

He said the El Faro recommendations are valuable and he intends to push the Coast Guard to implement they can.

Others, like not letting older ships use open lifeboats and curtailing the outsourcing of vessel inspections, would require an act of Congress.

“Where there is legislation, we will do that as well,” Nelson said.

The Coast Guard Commandant will give the final word on which recommendations should stick.

Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @RyanMichaelBenk.