This screen shot is from underwater video of the sunken El Faro, discovered in 15,000 feet of water off the Bahamas in October 2015 after it sank during Hurricane Joaquin. (NTSB video)

Coast Guard Hearings on El Faro Sinking Starting Feb. 16

Convened in Jacksonville, the hearings will examine the loss of the container ship El Faro and all of its 33 crewmembers last October; NTSB investigated the sinking and is participating in the hearings.

A public U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation hearing into the loss of the container ship El Faro and all of its 33 crewmembers last October is scheduled to begin Feb. 16 in Jacksonville, Fla. Owned by Sea Star Line, LLC and operated by TOTE Services, the ship sank during Hurricane Joaquin. The ship was located Oct. 31 in about 15,000 feet of water near Crooked Island, Bahamas.

The Coast Guard's announcement of the hearing stated that the first hearing session (Feb. 16-26) will focus on the pre-accident historical events relating to the loss, the regulatory compliance record of the ship, crewmembers' duties and qualifications, past operations of the vessel, and the Coast Guard's search and rescue operations. A subsequent hearing session at a date to be determined will address the final voyage, including cargo loading, weather conditions, and navigation.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which conducted its own investigation, will participate in the hearings, which will take place in the Prime F. Osborn Convention Center, 1000 Water Street.

The Marine Board of Investigation will work to determine:

  • What factors contributed to the accident
  • Whether there is evidence that any act of misconduct, inattention to duty, negligence, or willful violation of the law on the part of any licensed or certificated person contributed to the casualty
  • Whether there is evidence that any Coast Guard personnel or any representative or employee of any other government agency or any other person caused or contributed to the ship's loss

NTSB also announced that it will launch a second expedition to search for the ship's voyage data recorder and to get a more extensive and detailed survey of the wreckage. The exact launch date will be announced later but is expected to be in April 2016.

"The voyage data recorder may hold vital information about the challenges encountered by the crew in trying to save the ship," said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart. "Getting that information could be very helpful to our investigation."

A search area of approximately 13.5 square miles will be documented in photos and video by SENTRY, an autonomous underwater vehicle that will be launched from the research vessel Atlantis, which is owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

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