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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: If the actions recommended to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Safety Recommendation M-17-52 establish that the automatic identification system (AIS) is a viable means by which to relay (with acceptable time delay) meteorological and oceanographic data and metadata from vessels at sea for use by global meteorological authorities, propose to the International Maritime Organization that vessels required to use AIS also be equipped with meteorological and oceanographic sensors?including, at a minimum, sensors for barometric pressure and sea-surface temperature?that will automatically disseminate the data at high-temporal resolution via AIS.
Original recommendation transmittal letter:
Open Acceptable Alternate 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 Alternate Response)
Safety Recommendation History
We note that you believe these recommendations would place an undue carriage requirement on ships. Although you agree that it is feasible to use AIS to relay data collected from weather sensors, as recommended, you do not believe this should be mandatory for all AIS equipped vessels; therefore, you plan to support the US government position that the recommended action be voluntary on the part of participating ships. This may represent an alternative approach that satisfies this recommendation if you can provide information that adoption of an IMO voluntary practice will result in compliance by most AIS-equipped vessels, and that the voluntary practice will produce similar results to an IMO requirement. Pending our receipt and review of this information, and a proposal to the IMO to adopt the voluntary practice, Safety Recommendation M 17 48 is classified OPEN--ACCEPTABLE ALTERNATE RESPONSE. We also note that you believe that IMO member states should be reminded to encourage shipping companies to involve as many of their ships as practicable in making, recording, and reporting weather observations; therefore, you will propose that the IMO publish such a reminder in an appropriate form. As with Safety Recommendation M-17-48, this may represent an acceptable alternate response if you provide information showing that publication of such a reminder will produce similar results to the requirement discussed in Safety Recommendation M 17 49. The information will need to show that one-time publication of a reminder will have lasting value, and will not be forgotten at some point in the future. Pending our review of this information, and publication of a reminder by the IMO regarding the dissemination of meteorological and oceanographic data while at sea, Safety Recommendation M 17 49 is classified “Open—Acceptable Alternate Response.”
-From Karl L. Schultz, Admiral, U.S. Coast Guard, Commandant: I partially concur with this recommendation. This recommendation would place an undue carriage requirement on ships. While it is feasible to use AIS as a means to relay data collected from weather sensors, the Coast Guard does not believe this should be a mandatory obligation for all AIS equipped vessels. The Coast Guard will support a U.S. Government position at IMO that this be a voluntary practice on the part of participating ships. 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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