Second El Faro Hearings End with Focus on Families
Friday marked the final day of testimony in the second round of hearings into the loss of the con/ro El Faro last October. The U.S. Coast Guard's Marine Board of Investigation into her sinking called witnesses from her regulators, operators, weather service providers and others, as well as mariners who had worked aboard her and her sister ships in the past. The main thing that the panel has kept in mind, though, said chairman Captain Jason Neubauer, is that the families of her 33 lost crewmembers deserve a thorough and careful investigation – and "down the line, some recommendations to improve and make sure this doesn't happen again," he told Jacksonville's WOKV.
The families of the crew were a visible part of the proceedings, seated in a reserved area behind the witness stand. They attended wearing custom-printed tribute T-shirts remembering the victims, and they created an "El Faro 33: Not Forgotten" wristband, which they distributed to reporters and others. The sister of lost crewman Howard Schoenly created a painted wooden anchor with the names of the 33 men emblazoned on it, and she gave a copy to each family and to the vessel's operators, the TOTE group of companies.
The broader maritime community also contributed to the hearings, Captain Neubauer said – not only by testifying, attending, or watching online, but by submitting emailed tips to the Board, which he said were helpful for identifying potential witnesses and in crafting questions to guide testimony.
The Coast Guard will hold a third set of sessions in the coming months. The El Faro's "black box" (voyage data recorder) has been found on the seafloor, in 15,000 feet of water, and investigators hope that by the time they reconvene, a salvage team will be able to deploy equipment to recover it – and its invaluable information on the ship's final hours, potentially including navigational data and bridge audio recordings.
Additional coverage of the hearings: