TAMPA, Florida — The U.S. investigation Monday into the deadly sinking of a cargo ship during a 2015 hurricane examined conditions aboard El Faro, including preliminary findings that it was operating with a minimal stability margin on its final voyage.
Still, El Faro met applicable requirements for “intact and damage stability” on its final voyage, when all 33 crew on board, including four Mainers, died, according to a U.S. Coast Guard preliminary report. It would not have met standards for a ship built today, the report summary said.
Jeff Stettler, a naval architect, presented the findings to the Coast Guard’s Marine Board of Investigation, convened for the most serious accidents.
His report came on the first day of two weeks of planned testimony in Jacksonville, Florida, as the panel conducts its final round of public hearings.
The 790-foot El Faro sank during a hurricane on Oct. 1, 2015, two days after leaving Jacksonville on a cargo run to Puerto Rico in the worst disaster involving a U.S.-flagged vessel in more than three decades.
The Mainers lost aboard El Faro were Capt. Michael Davidson, 53, of Windham, a 1988 graduate of Maine Maritime Academy; Michael Holland, 25, of Wilton, a 2012 graduate of Maine Maritime; Dylan Meklin, 23, of Rockland, a 2015 graduate of Maine Maritime; and Danielle Randolph, 34, also of Rockland, a 2004 Maine Maritime grad.
Another crew member, Mitchell Kuflik of Brooklyn, New York, graduated from Maine Maritime in 2011.
Earlier Monday, investigators questioned Capt. Raymond Thompson, former chief mate on El Faro, asking about crew fatigue, cargo securing and an anemometer measuring wind speed.
Authorities now have key information about the ship’s final hours from its voyage data recorder that was not recovered when the panel held two rounds of hearings last year.
Transcripts from the recordings showed Davidson’s uncertainty about the storm’s location. The veteran mariner told his chief mate he was receiving conflicting reports hours before the alarm sounded to abandon ship.
Ultimately, the Coast Guard panel expects to issue a report that could make recommendations to prevent another disaster, though the agency has no timeline for its release. The National Transportation Safety Board is also participating in the hearings.
Monday’s testimony touched on the availability of life-saving equipment. Discussion of lifeboats is scheduled for next week.
During earlier hearings, executives of Tote Services, which managed El Faro, called the disaster a tragic accident.
The company has settled financially with 28 families, Tote said in a statement, declining details.
“Since the loss of the El Faro, we have focused every effort on supporting the families of those on board. An important part of this support has entailed reaching fair and swift legal settlements for those who may choose them,” Tote said in a statement last week.