USCG Panel Discusses El Faro's Propulsion System

The wreck of the El Faro (courtesy NTSB)

By MarEx 2016-02-19 20:29:46

In testimony Friday, the USCG Marine Board of Investigation disclosed detailed evidence from a survey of the El Faro's starboard boiler conducted the month before her loss.

The captain of the El Faro said in his final transmission that the ship had lost propulsion, and the panel questioned TOTE Services Director of Ship Management John Fisker-Andersen at length regarding the condition of the ship's powerplant.

TOTE had commissioned an independent firm to survey the starboard boiler in order to determine the scope of work required during her next drydock period, scheduled for November 6. The port boiler was not inspected, Mr. Fisker-Andersen said, and the condition of the starboard unit was intended to serve as an indicator of maintenance requirements for both. The USCG has not made the full text of the document available to the public, but in the section quoted, the surveyors found that the boiler’s “burner throats have deteriorated severely, especially between number one and number three burners. Cracking and loss of material, plus heavy buildup of fuel, is present in all three throats.”

Mr. Fisker-Andersen told the panel that the survey was standard practice in advance of a drydock period, and that the damages found had been discussed with boiler specialists and were not “show stoppers.” The wear on the components did not constitute a reason to cancel or delay a voyage, he said.

Echoing other TOTE officials, Fisker-Andersen told the panel that the El Faro and sister ship El Yunque were in fine shape. “We never missed any sailings. We were always able to safely operate,” he said. "The machinery on both ships was in very good condition.”

[Diagram of boiler burner courtesy COEN]

The panel also asked Mr. Fisker-Andersen his opinion of the late Captain Michael Davidson, the master of the El Faro, drawing his attention to internal emails that characterized Captain Davidson as the "least engaged in deck operations of all four masters” on the run and a “stateroom captain.” Fisker-Andersen said that this was a matter of management style, not necessarily a deficiency. William Bennett, the lawyer representing Captain Davidson's widow, objected strongly to the line of questioning and asked the panel to “get to the facts, not rumor and supposition.”

In the afternoon, Anthony Callaway, Vessel Supervisor with PORTUS Services and the foreman for cargo loading on the El Faro's final sailing, took the stand to testify on longshore practices for the vessel. He told the board that his crew used double lashings on the TOTE ships all the time, as standard practice, and had for many years; the ship was full and there was nothing unusual about the load, he said.