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On Thursday, October 1, 2015, the SS El Faro, a 40-year-old cargo ship owned by TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico and operated by TOTE Services, Inc., was on a regular route from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, when it foundered and sank in the Atlantic Ocean about 40 nautical miles northeast of Acklins and Crooked Island, Bahamas. The ship had sailed directly into the path of Hurricane Joaquin, carrying a crew of 33, including 5 Polish contract repair workers. All those aboard perished in the sinking. As part of its accident investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) led a joint effort with the US Navy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the National Science Foundation to locate the ship’s wreckage and retrieve its voyage data recorder (VDR). The VDR was pulled from 15,250 feet below the ocean surface in August 2016 during the third undersea mission and yielded more than 26 hours of parametric data and audio files. The NTSB’s accident investigation identified the following safety issues: captain’s actions, use of noncurrent weather information, late decision to muster the crew, ineffective bridge resource management, inadequate company oversight, company’s safety management system, flooding in cargo holds, loss of propulsion, downflooding through ventilation closures, need for damage control plan, and lack of appropriate survival craft. The NTSB made safety recommendations to the US Coast Guard; the Federal Communications Commission; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; the International Association of Classification Societies; the American Bureau of Shipping; Furuno Electric Company, Ltd.; and TOTE Services, Inc.
TO THE UNITED STATES COAST GUARD: Propose to the International Maritime Organization that any opening that must normally be kept open for the effective operation of the ship must also be considered a downflooding point, both in intact and damage stability regulations and in load line regulations under the International Convention on Load Lines.
Original recommendation transmittal letter:
Open - Acceptable Response
36 NM Northeast Crooked Island Bahamas, AO, United States
Tropical Cyclone Information for Mariners
Sinking of US Cargo Vessel SS
Atlantic Ocean, Northeast of Acklins and Crooked Island, Bahamas
Sinking of the US Cargo Vessel
: Illustrated Digest
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status:
USCG (Open - Acceptable Response)
Safety Recommendation History
Existing regulations require all hull openings below the freeboard deck to be fitted with watertight closures on all vessels. For vessels constructed after June 2016, SOLAS regulation 11 1/7 2, in conjunction with Unified Interpretation per Maritime Safety Committee (MSC).1/Circ.1539, requires that continuous air supply vents for engine rooms and emergency generator rooms be considered unprotected downflooding points for damage stability purposes, even if they are fitted with a closure. We note that you will consider extending this interpretation to air supply and exhaust vents in roll on/roll off (RO/RO) cargo spaces on both new and existing vessels. We further note that your recently promulgated supplemental flag state guidance regarding SMS development and implementation states that a company’s SMS should ensure that crewmembers are familiar with the location of hull openings and their closures. Your extension of the interpretation to RO/RO cargo spaces will partially satisfy this recommendation, but we point out that, for this recommendation to be closed acceptably, you must also propose that the IMO take similar action. Pending that, Safety Recommendation M-17-27 is classified OPEN--ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.
-From Karl L. Schultz, Admiral, U.S. Coast Guard, Commandant: I partially concur with this recommendation. Existing regulations require all hull openings below the freeboard deck be fitted with watertight closures on all vessels. For vessels constructed after June 2016, SOLAS regulation 11-1/7-2 (in conjunction with Unified Interpretation per MSC.1/Circ.1539) requires that continuous air supply vents for engine rooms and emergency generator rooms be considered as unprotected downflooding points for damage stability purposes, even if fitted with a closure. The Coast Guard will consider extending this interpretation to air supply and exhaust vents in RO-RO cargo spaces on both new and existing vessels. The Coast Guard further considers that the company's SMS should ensure that crewmembers are familiar with the location of hull openings and their closures, and has addressed this matter in the recently promulgated supplemental flag State guidance regarding the development and implementation of SMSs. I will keep the Board informed of the Coast Guard's action on this recommendation.
On December 12, 2017, the NTSB adopted its report Sinking of US Cargo Vessel SS El Faro, Atlantic Ocean, Northeast of Acklins and Crooked Island, Bahamas, October 1, 2015, NTSB/MAR-17/01. The details of this accident investigation and the resulting safety recommendations may be found in the attached report, which can also be accessed at http://www.ntsb.gov. Among the safety recommendations are 29 issued to the US Coast Guard, which can be found on pages 248–251 of the report. The NTSB is vitally interested in these recommendations because they are designed to prevent accidents and save lives. We would appreciate a response within 90 days, detailing the actions you have taken or intend to take to implement these recommendations. When replying, please refer to the safety recommendations by number. We encourage you to submit your response to email@example.com. If it exceeds 20 megabytes, including attachments, please e-mail us at the same address for instructions. Please do not submit both an electronic copy and a hard copy of the same response.
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