El Faro’s Sister Ship Loses Power Offshore
Yet another TOTE Maritime ship lost power and drifted for hours on the open seas this past Tuesday. A sister ship to the El Faro, the North Star lost engine power off the coast of Canada this week while sailing from Alaska to Washington. The engine failed to restart, forcing the crew to drift aimlessly for hours until the crew discovered the issue: an electrical problem that crippled the engine (until it was repaired). It was still accompanied by a tug boat until it reached Washington.
Like the El Faro, the North Star is due to be retrofitted this fall. Its scheduled repair will convert it to natural gas, hopefully preventing issues like this one or the one that plagued the El Faro, which also suffered from frequent engine failure. In a haunting parallel, the El Faro was intended to take up the TOTE routes on the West Coast had it survived Hurricane Joaquin, the same routes the North Star was traveling this week. Thankfully, the weather this week meant only a delay in arrival.
Growing Record of Poor Maintenance
Only four years ago, the North Star was featured on the Canadian documentary TV show Mighty Ships. In the episode, the captain and the crew were forced to deal with unfavorable weather combined with another, tragically familiar issue: a failing engine. What perhaps made for good television years ago is now indicting evidence of a pattern.
The El Faro was lost at sea when it experienced similar engine failure during Hurricane Joaquin. TOTE Maritime insists that it is not responsible for what happened to the crew of the El Faro, and that the families left behind by the lost crew are legally limited in the damages they can seek. However, what happened to the El Faro was no fluke. The ship itself had a history of maintenance issues, including 23 documented by the Coast Guard alone in the last 12 years.
The fact that yet another one of their ships is suffering from a history of engine failure, merely months after a sister ship was lost at sea for a similar issue, is no small thing. Ship owners take the lives of their crew and employees in their hands when they put them on the company’s vessels. If the vessels prove themselves to be unseaworthy, TOTE Maritime has a responsibility to repair those issues quickly and effectively—before another tragedy occurs.