Originally named the Puerto Rico, the vessel was built by Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., according to the American Bureau of Shipping. It was renamed the Northern Lights in 1991 and, in 1993, 91 feet and a new midbody were added by Alabama Shipyard Inc. The ship was renamed the El Faro in 2006 and sailed as part of the former Sea Star Line, which began service to Puerto Rico in 1985.
Tote Maritime was formed in September when TOTE Inc. announced that Totem Ocean Express and Florida’s Sea Star Line would be reorganized into TOTE Marine, including TOTE Marine Alaska, which connects Tacoma, Washington, with Anchorage, Alaska; and TOTE Marine Puerto Rico, with ships sailing between Jacksonville, Florida, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Saltchuk Resources is privately owned and is considered to be the largest company in Washington, with more than $2 billion in assets and nearly $3 billion in annual revenue, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal.
Saltchuk, led by President Timothy Engle and Chairman Mark Tabbutt, includes six lines of business including domestic and international shipping, petroleum distribution, interstate trucking and air cargo.
TOTE Marine Puerto Rico operates twice-weekly, three-day voyages between Jacksonville, San Juan and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The ships carry groceries, vehicles and other cargo.
No mention of the El Faro or its fellow ship, the El Yunque, is made on the Tote Marine Puerto Rico website, which TOTE Maritime spokesman Michael Hanson said Monday is due to the rebranding of the Caribbean line.
The El Faro and its sister ship, the El Yunque, were due to be retrofitted this fall and then assume the company’s West Coast routes, Hanson said. They would be replaced by the Marlin-class Perla Del Caribe, an environmentally friendly vessel that was added to the Caribbean line in August, and another Marlin-class vessel, the Isla Bella, due to be launched later this month.
This fall the company began converting its two Alaska ships — which sail between Anchorage and Tacoma — to natural gas engines.
The 41-year-old El Faro was “well-maintained,” with all crew members trained to U.S. and international standards, the company states on its website. All crew members were fully qualified members of the Seaman’s International Union and the officers members of the American Maritime Officers.
According to the company, the El Faro was last inspected by the American Bureau of Shipping in February and the U.S. Coast Guard in March. A formal annual audit by the company also took place in March.
The vessel carried two “open-type” fiberglass lifeboats each certified to carry 43 people. The lifeboats contained survival rations and were designed to be “unsinkable even if full of water and full of crew,” according to Tote Maritime. One was propelled by manual power and the other by a small diesel engine.
In addition, the El Faro carried five life rafts designed to be launched manually over the side and to self-deploy. Four of the rafts were designed to carry 25 people each, and an additional six-person life raft was stored on the bow, for a total capacity of 106 people.