El Faro May Have Suffered a Boiler Explosion
On Friday, the Marine Board of Investigation hearings into the loss of the El Faro continued with testimony from a deck officer who served on the ill-fated vessel.
Former El Faro third mate Alejandro Berrios took the stand to testify about the ship's operating practices and safety culture. Board member Keith Fawcett asked him about a series of logbook entries that showed Barrios had been working long hours while serving on the El Faro, and Barrios said that he had not been aware of federal rest requirements at that time. However, he said that the El Faro's captain, Michael Davidson, would offer to stand watches if any of the mates were feeling fatigued – even if they were meeting their required hours of rest.
William Bennett, the attorney for Captain Davidson's widow, asked Barrios whether the El Faro had had a good crew, and with considerable emotion, Barrios answered that this was indeed correct – and that the captain had provided leadership for the safety of the ship's operations.
Remembering the Lost: During a break in the proceedings, family members of the crew of the El Faro set up portraits of the deceased – a moving reminder of the true purpose of the hearings. (Social media image)
ABS expert discusses El Faro’s sinking
For the second half of the day’s proceedings, Lou O’Donnell, assistant chief surveyor for the American Bureau of Shipping, contributed to the review of the El Faro's final hours. First, like others, he expressed confidence in the skill of her crew. “I'm sure the engineers were doing everything they could to get the engines back online," he said.
Previous analysis of the vessel’s sinking has centered on an established sequence: flooding of one or more holds; free surface effect; severe list; the loss of lube oil pressure for her turbines; loss of propulsion; and capsize. O'Donnell added a new possibility – that the flooding of her engine rooms could have caused catastrophic damage to her boilers, including a boiler explosion.
Board chair Captain Jason Neubauer asked O'Donnell whether it is possible that such an explosion could have caused the detachment of the El Faro's bridge. (The upper decks of the house were found about half a mile away from the rest of the vessel.) O'Donnell said that it could be an explanation, though it would be hard to be certain.