It has been one year since the tragic loss of the cargo ship El Faro and her 33 crew members. I encourage everyone in the maritime community to take a few moments to remember them, and reflect on the hazards faced by all seafarers. This is an extremely difficult milestone for the families and loved ones. My thoughts continue to be with them.
Many continue to question what happened on board the El Faro during its final voyage. In order to ensure we get those answers, a team of senior marine investigators from the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), continues its extensive fact finding process. This process is aided by the recovery of the El Faro’s Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) in August at a depth of 15,000 feet after three exhaustive searches. Over the course of the last month, a combined team of investigators and representatives from designated parties to the investigation have been meticulously reviewing evidence from the VDR and transcribing hours of recorded bridge conversations. It’s a long and often emotional process that will help provide key answers once completed.
We have also completed two rounds of hearings as part of the Marine Board of Investigation convened by the commandant of the Coast Guard. There is a third and final hearing tentatively scheduled for January 2017. The purpose of these hearings is to determine the contributing factors that led to this tragedy, so we can learn from them and apply the lessons learned to prevent future occurrences.
An important tenet of the hearings is that they are fully transparent to the public. I’m convinced that transparency helps to compel corrective actions where needed. It also often helps to expedite identification of potential safety issues and concerns well before issuance of the final investigative report. As a reminder, all El Faro hearing sessions remain archived and available for public viewing. Transcripts from the first hearing session are also available.
We will never forget the El Faro and her crew. I’m committed to using the lessons learned to prevent a similar incident from ever occurring again.
Rear Admiral Paul Thomas is assistant commandant for prevention policy, United States Coast Guard.