On Friday, the third round of Coast Guard hearings into the loss of the El Faro drew to an end with final comments from the parties of interest and a moment of silence for her missing crew. 33 black ribbons marked off the seats in the front rows to commemorate their lives – a poignant reminder of the hearings’ real purpose.
In closing statements, representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), TOTE Maritime and the American Bureau of Shipping thanked the Marine Board of Investigation for the chance to participate, and all expressed their condolences to the families of the departed.
The exhaustive six-week hearing process has been marked by emotion, tension and revelation, and has produced dozens of hours of testimony. "I believe we have gathered the factual evidence necessary to proceed with our analysis," said Marine Board of Investigation chairman Capt. Jason Neubauer. "I’d like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank the parties of interest, government agencies, maritime organizations, company representatives, merchant mariners, and individual witnesses who dedicated their time and resources to this monumental endeavor."
Neubauer did not give a timeline for the Marine Board of Investigation's final report, suggesting only that the process will take as long as necessary. The NTSB will issue its own independent analysis and recommendations.
This round of hearings was the first to benefit from the information on the El Faro's Voyage Data Recorder, which was recovered by a U.S. Navy team last August. Neubauer said that the recorder's 26 hours of bridge audio was not only a critical aid to the investigation, but also an emotionally moving record of the crew's will to survive. "There [were] definitely heroic actions done to try to save other members and the ship itself," he told local media. "For me, it is something I will always think about.”
Neubauer thanked the families of the crew for their presence and participation in the hearings. "On behalf of the entire board, I would like to express our deepest condolences to the friends, shipmates, and families of the mariners who were lost at sea during this accident," he said. "It’s also important for investigators to observe the emotional toll, as it strengthens our resolve, daily . . . Your feedback and suggestions have aided the overall investigation, and your commitment to preventing a similar tragedy in the future is noble and appreciated."
In closing, Neubauer asked for a 33-second moment of silence in memory of the crew, with the names of the lost projected on a screen behind the panel. Afterwards, the crewmembers’ families held a prayer circle to commemorate their missing loved ones – 33 brave men and women who may have been lost but will never be forgotten.