NTSB calls for improved maritime communications and weather forecasting

Bad weather reports and communications cited in cargo ship sinking

As Florida cruise ship attorneys, we review the causes of a cruise ship or maritime accident. The National Transportation Safety investigated the death of 33 crew members in the 2015 sinking of a cargo ship in the most fatal maritime accident of its kind in 50 years. It preliminary findings revealed long-standing causes of these tragedies. The NTSB called for improved maritime communications and weather forecasting.

El Faro sails into hurricane

The El Faro, a US-flagged, 790-foot cargo ship carrying containers and vehicles was sailing 40 miles northeast from the Bahamas and traveling from Jacksonville to San Juan on Oct. 1, 2015. At 7:15 p.m., the vessel was close to the eye of Hurricane Joaquin and sent distress signals to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Earlier, the ship’s captain reported to the ship’s company that a scuttle popped open and that water was flowing freely into a hold. He also said that the crew was controlling the water flowing in the ship but that it was listing 15 degrees and its propulsion was lost.

The Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force were unable to reestablish communications with the vessel and sent numerous plans and ships to its last known position. Hurricane-force conditions interfered with their search.

Three days later, the Coast Guard found a dead crew member wearing an immersion suit and life craft. A debris and oil slick were seen on Oct. 5. It suspended its search on Oct. 7.

A Navy ship using underwater detector located the El Faro’s wreckage near the bottom of the ocean near Crooked Island on Oct. 31. The ships’ data recorder containing 28 hours of data was ultimately recovered on Aug. 8.

Ship did not receive warnings

The NTSB still has not determined the probable cause or factors contributing to this sinking. However, it issued preliminary recommendations based upon its findings from Joaquin and other recent cyclones.

Early forecasts inaccurately predicted a comparatively weak storm moving to the west and northwest. However, it became stronger and became a deep system which moved to the southwest. The National Hurricane Center committed tracking errors over three and five days that were double the average number of errors for the earlier five years.

The ship’s crew was furnished with text intermediate public advisories sent to the bridge at six hour intervals instead of the required three hours. There was no warning on the storm’s intensity or that the ship’s intended course was taking it directly toward the hurricane’s center.

The NTSB recommended that the National Weather Service improve the accessibility of hurricane bulletins and provide clear notification when updates will be released. It also called for improved forecast models.

Contact a Florida Cruise Ship Accident Attorney

If you were seriously injured in a maritime accident, contact Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. Our Miami law firm specializes litigating a maritime or cruise ship accident and maritime law while we represented maritime clients for over 45 years from all over the world. Call us toll free at (877) 475-2905 to set up your free consultation today.

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