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NTSB Says it Won't Release El Faro Recorder Audio to the Public

U.S. Navy
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons
An undated video frame grab showing the stern of the of the sunken freighter El Faro on the seafloor, 15,000 feet deep near the Bahamas.

  At a press conference in Florida Friday, the National Transportation Safety Board said it will not make audio from the data recorder of the sunken cargo ship the El Faro available to the public, due to federal law.

The announcement comes just days after the data recorder was retrieved from the ocean floor. Four of the 33 crew members lost on the El Faro were from Maine.

NTSB acting director of Marine Safety Brian Curtis says it’s unclear how soon investigators will retrieve information from the data recorder, but any audio they find will not be released to the public, including family members of the El Faro’s crew.

“By our statutes, no one will be listening to that outside the agency personnel required to, so they in fact will not be listening to the actual audio,” he says.

Curtis says the NTSB will, however, release written transcripts.

The voyage data recorder, or VDR, is supposed to record a minimum of 12 hours of audio from the ship’s bridge, as well as navigational data. Curtis says he’s optimistic that investigators will be able retrieve information from the recorder, but there are many variables to contend with. The VDR sat in 15,000 feet of water for 10 months.

“Was the VDR damaged? Was the VDR working properly? If there is good data on the VDR audibly, how many hours might it contain? Finally, the quality of the audio, as far as whether we have to do any filtering to isolate background noise from the sea condition,” he says.

The hope is that the data recorder will shed further light on circumstances surrounding the El Faro’s ill-fated trip. The cargo ship sank last October off the coast of the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin.

All 33 crew members died. Four, including the captain, were from Maine, and graduated from Maine Maritime Academy. Another crew member from New York was also a graduate of Maine Maritime.

Attempts by MPBN to reach family members were unsuccessful.

Audio of the NTSB press conference was provided to MPBN by WJCT in Jacksonville, Florida.