Loss of Ship El Faro – Time Line

NL 52 Loss of ship El Faro


Capt Francis Lansakara

Director, JMC Nautical Pte Ltd Singapore

Master Mariner. LLM (London) specialist in shipping law

El Faro Buoy

The loss of ship El Faro

El Faro was a Roll on Roll off ship (a ship designed to carry vehicles or wheel base cargo) built 40 years ago flying USA flag and maintained under the classification rules of American Bureau of Shipping (ABS). Although the ship El Faro was 40 years old she has maintained in class in accordance with class rules. She had on board total of 33 crew members 28 of them were American and the others were Polish. Unfortunately no one survived to give evidence as to what happened but some of the previous crew has described the vessel as a “rusty bucket”.

The Passage plan of ship El Faro

The Passage Plan: She departed Port Jacksonville of Florida USA at about 0100 GMT on Wednesday the 30th September 2015 in a loaded condition with cargos of containers and vehicles her destination was San Juan Porto Rico located on the South Eastern side of Jacksonville Florida.

El Faro Chart

El Faro Passage Plan

According to the weather reports and whether maps (above) during the period shows hurricane Jacqueline a category 4 hurricane was in the region South of Port Jacksonville on that day and it was heading north.

Therefore it was clear at the time of departure from Port Jacksonville it was known to El Faro navigators and master she will have to encounter the cyclone during her current passage. The distress call: On Thursday, October 1, 2015, about 07:15 a.m. eastern daylight time, (0315GMT) the U.S. Coast Guard received a distress alerts from the ship.

It reported breach of hull, ingress of water, loss of main propulsion and ship listing to about 15 degrees. From the information contained in the distress call it could well be interpreted that the ship is sinking and on the verge of capsizing as well.

Rescue efforts of ship El Faro continues for several days

Although US coast Guards initiated immediate rescue efforts by helicopters and search vessels they were hampered by bad weather for few more days however, almost three days after the distress call (on the 4th October) during the search operation a damaged lifeboat, life rafts and a body of crew member wearing an immersion suit was found and on the following day in the same area an oil slick and some debris of the ship found but the ship and the rest of missing crew were not found.   The search and rescue continued for several more days and on 7th October US Coast Guard suspended the unsuccessful search for survivors, as everyone on board is presumed dead.

The mystery of ship El Faro

As the mystery continued on Tuesday, October 6, US the National Transportation Safety Board(NTSB) launched a full team to Jacksonville to lead the federal investigation in cooperation together with the Coast Guard, the American Bureau of Shipping (the El Faro’s classification society), and TOTE Maritime (ship owners) as parties. The U.S. Navy Salvage and Diving division of the Naval Seas Systems Command was contracted to locate the sunken ship, assist in the sea floor documentation of the wreckage and recover the voyage data recorder.

The breakthrough came on the last week of October when further ship debris were sighted off the coast of Bahamas as the search teams were certain at least that they were looking at the right place and finally, on the 1st November 2015 at about 0930 GMT the USNS Apache crew using sonar equipment located the wreckage believed to be El Faro lying at the bottom of the sea 4900 meters depth.

The loss of El Faro, time line and unanswered questions

The time line for next phase of recovery still unknown as the depth at which she is resting is not shallow and preparation for such recovery will be long, costly and painful. There are many unanswered questions to the investigators one such question could be master’s decision to depart from the port with knowledge that a category 4 cyclone is approaching into ships intended path, the other difficult question could be whether the existing classification rules are of sufficient strength to justify the integrity of the hull for 40 years old ships.


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