The Marine Board of Investigation hearings into the loss of the El Faro continued Tuesday with testimony regarding the condition of the El Yunque, the El Faro's sister ship.
The El Yunque was to enter service on the West Coast after the El Faro's sinking, but Captain David Flaherty, the Coast Guard's chief traveling inspector, testified that she was scrapped after significant wastage was found in her ventilation trunks.
Flaherty alleged that the corrosion was allowed to continue unabated for years, possibly beyond the timeline of a full survey cycle. "[Inspectors] discovered extensive wastage of the trunk's steel plating, [both] interior and side shell . . . in essence they found the whole ventilation trunk had an extensive amount of wastage that in their opinion had not been addressed in many years," he said. (Flaherty noted that there were no evidence in the El Faro's inspection and drydocking records that she had had the same problem.)
The El Yunque was slated to take over a position on TOTE Maritime's Tacoma-Alaska rotation, freeing up the TOTE ro/ro Midnight Sun to undergo a conversion to LNG propulsion. After the El Faro's sinking, El Yunque sailed to Tacoma, where she was inspected in early 2016. At that time, Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound found additional wastage in her other ventilation trunks, including "holes in the sideshell in way of vent inlets."
Inspectors added the repair of this wastage to the vessel’s worklist, but in August 2016, TOTE canceled its plans to put the El Yunque back into service. The firm halted work on the vessel, filed a request with the Coast Guard to place her in layup and made plans for her disposal. On Tuesday, Captain Flaherty said that she is now in Brownsville, Texas, waiting to be scrapped.
Alternate Compliance Program
Flaherty also discussed an internal Coast Guard review of the Alternate Compliance Program (ACP), the system under which class societies inspect vessels on behalf of the USCG. He highlighted several areas for further improvement in the program, especially in communication between the USCG, the approved class societies and the shipowners. "Communication, I have to emphasize, is key. We found several instances of [communications problems] . . . the owner-operators are required to provide 14 days of notification to the class society so that they can request the Coast Guard to attend, but in practice they may only give one day,” he said. In addition, the class societies do not have access to the Coast Guard's full inspection database, making it harder for them to find out about deficiencies identified by the USCG.