The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday wrapped up its review of the many factors that played a role in the sinking of the cargo ship El Faro two years ago and the deaths of 33 crew members, including 4 from Maine. NTSB investigators cited a series of poor decisions by the ship’s owner, Tote Maritime Inc., and her captain, Michael Davidson of Windham.
According to the NTSB report, Davidson failed to properly lead his crew as the El Faro approached a storm off the Bahamas with 150 mph winds. Carrie Bell, an accident investigator with the NTSB, told the board that as the October weather worsened, Davidson refused requests from the crew to come to the ship’s bridge.
“The captain had several opportunities to choose other passages along the route and minimize the impact the storm would have on the vessel,” she said.
Bell said Davidson refused a crew suggestion to alter course to avoid the storm and relied on outdated weather information.
“By not coming to the bridge as the mates suggested, and by dismissing their suggestions to change course, the captain missed opportunities to reassess the situation and alter the voyage plan,” she said. “Given the responsibility of his position and the risk of coming weather, it is difficult to explain how the captain could have been absent from the bridge while the ship sailed into a hurricane.”
New Jersey-based Tote Maritime also received a harsh assessment from the NTSB investigators, who told the board that the company lacked in some “critical” aspects of safety management and training. Bell said her investigation found that the company had not reviewed its heavy weather procedures with the captain or the ship’s crew prior to their departure.
“Staff believes the company’s lack of oversight in critical aspects of safety management — including gaps in training and shipboard operations in severe weather — denoted a weak safety culture in the company and contributed to the sinking of El Faro,” she said.
The NTSB is expected to issue a final report on the El Faro sinking and incorporate numerous recommendations for changes in protocols in an effort to improve maritime safety standards.