Since the successful recovery of a voyage data recorder (VDR) in 2016 from the sunken wreck of the US cargo ship El Faro, OMS has hosted seafloor investigation workshops to develop lessons, best practices, and partnerships with organizations with similar missions in order to assist with future cases, either in aviation or marine accidents.
The successful recovery of the El Faro’s VDR created an increased expectation for governments and operators to conduct these types of recovery operations in the future. Fortunately, there are emerging technologies that will make similar searches and recoveries faster and more efficient. There are continuous improvements in the effective use of sonar and underwater video, photography, and computer imaging. There are also new autonomous underwater vehicles, capable of operating in fleets and staying underwater for longer durations. While technology can solve some issues, emerging trends in the shipping industry, such as shipping in polar regions, may pose new challenges for investigators and require new solutions.
Planning for these large-scale seafloor investigations is critical to the success of future investigations. After the El Faro investigation, the NTSB identified capable partners and began developing agreements to help speed cooperation when required in the future. Seafloor investigation workshops share lessons from recent aviation and marine accidents and help any organization prepare for what we always hope never happens.
In 2017, the agency held a workshop for organizations within the US government, and in 2019, the agency hosted another workshop, this time expanded to include other flag organizations and national governments. In December of 2019, International Registries, Inc., on behalf of the Marshall Islands Registry, hosted workshops in London and Athens, to share some important lessons in planning for the next casualty requiring seafloor investigation.