Locally-based ship to help search for El Faro wreckage

El Faro
In this undated photo provided by TOTE Maritime shows the cargo ship, El Faro. The El Faro departed Jacksonville, Fla., on Sept. 29, 2015 when Joaquin was still a tropical storm. The ship had 33 crew members, and it was headed to Puerto Rico when it encountered heavy seas when Joaquin became a hurricane. The U.S. Coast Guard announced Monday, Oct. 5, 2015 that the El Faro has been lost. They are still searching for survivors. (TOTE Maritime via AP)

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The Navy has sent a locally-based ship to help search for the wreckage of a missing cargo ship.

The USNS Apache departed Norfolk Monday to head to the Bahamas where El Faro went down a few weeks ago. The ship is deploying to a search area northeast of Crooked Island in the Bahamas island chain, which is the last known location of the vessel.

Navy officials say Apache is equipped with several pieces of underwater search equipment, including a voyage data recorder locator, side-scan sonar and an underwater remote operated vehicle.

Investigators believe the cargo ship sailed into Hurricane Joaquin with 33 sailors on board.

No one has seen or heard from the ship since.

UPDATE: NTSB issues an update into the investigation into the sinking of El Faro.

In June 2015, a qualified ABS surveyor examined and tested the main, auxiliary and emergency systems as part of the continuous machinery survey program and found them to be satisfactory.

TOTE told investigators that El Faro was scheduled to be removed from the route between Jacksonville and San Juan and redeployed to the U.S. West Coast where it would operate between Washington State and Alaska. In August, in order to prepare for this operational change, TOTE began to make modifications to the vessel while underway under the supervision of an additional chief engineer. Work on these modifications was performed by welders and machinists over many voyages, including during the accident voyage.

On September 11, 2015, TOTE received permission from the Coast Guard to shut down one of the ship’s two boilers so it could be inspected by an independent boiler service company during a voyage between San Juan and Jacksonville. As a result of the inspection, the boiler service company recommended service to both boilers during an upcoming dry dock period that had already been scheduled for November 6, 2015. The boiler was returned to service following the inspection.

Interviews of relief crew and company management indicated that onboard safety drills were consistently conducted on a weekly basis. These included lifeboat drills for all  to ensure that all crew members on board understood their responsibilities in an emergency.

Investigators interviewed two pilots that had guided El Faro in and out of the Port of Jacksonville; both reported that the vessel handled similarly to other vessels of its size and type.

The vessel’s terminal manager reported that El Faro met stability criteria when it left Jacksonville.

The company’s procedures called for some cargo on the ship to be “double lashed” regardless of the weather expected to be encountered during the voyage. The vessel stevedores reported that prior to El Faro’s departure on the accident voyage, the cargo was secured in accordance with those procedures.

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