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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: Require that all deck officers, at both operational and management levels, take a Coast Guard–approved advanced meteorology course to close the gap for mariners initially credentialed before 1998.
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 deck officers at the operational level are required to take a basic, not an advanced, meteorology course, and evaluating weather changes and taking appropriate action is the master’s or chief mate’s responsibility. We further note that your advanced meteorology training focuses on overall vessel management, which is the responsibility of the management level officers. Finally, we note that, because some seafarers at the operational level credentialed before 1998 were not required to take a meteorology course, you will initiate a rulemaking to require that all deck officers at the operational level take meteorology training and that all management-level officers take advanced meteorology if they have not previously completed it. We issued this recommendation based on our conclusion that training for heavy-weather operations, including through advanced meteorology and advanced ship-handling courses, might have provided El Faro’s captain (who was exempt from such training) with additional information to consider when evaluating his options, and may have resulted in a different course of action. Your plan to require operational-level deck officers to complete meteorology training if they have not previously done so, and for all management-level deck officers to take advanced meteorology training if they have not previously done so, are alternatives that will satisfy this recommendation. Pending enactment of those requirements for operational- and management-level deck officers, Safety Recommendation M-17-33 is classified OPEN--ACCEPTABLE ALTERNATE RESPONSE.
-From Karl L. Schultz, Admiral, U.S. Coast Guard, Commandant: I partially concur with this recommendation. Deck officers at the operational level are required to take meteorology, but not advanced meteorology. The training for operational level officers includes characteristics of weather systems including tropical revolving storms and recognizing changing weather conditions. They are trained to recognize the possible approach or increase in severity of weather conditions, but evaluating the changes and taking appropriate action is the responsibility of the Master or Chief Mate. The topics for advanced meteorology go beyond the watchstanding requirements and instead are focused on the overall management of the vessel and the prosecution of its voyage, which is the responsibility of the management level officers. We recognize that some seafarers at the operational level credentialed before 1998 were not required to take meteorology. The Coast Guard will initiate a rulemaking to require the meteorology training for all deck officers, at the operational level, who have not previously completed it. In addition, the Coast Guard will initiate a rulemaking to require training in advanced meteorology for all management level officers who have not previously completed it. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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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