Offshore InjuryBlog

Investigators Find Wreckage Believed to Be the Missing El Faro

The team on the USNS Apache has discovered wreckage of a vessel that is mostly likely the cargo ship that went missing last month during Hurricane Joaquin. The National Transportation Safety Board is still gathering evidence and will soon be using CURV 21, a remotely operated underwater vehicle equipped with video to survey the wreckage and confirm that it is the El Faro.

The wreckage was identified by Orion, which is a side-scan radar that was sent out in phase two of the investigation. Searchers believe the images discovered are consistent with the cargo ship.

Finding the first piece of the ship is exciting and promising for investigators. Sadly, locating and finding the El Faro alone will not bring peace or closure to those who lost loved ones in the tragic incident. The families impacted by the sinking of the El Faro deserve justice—something TOTE Maritime and other owners are trying to block.

Ship Owners Shirk Responsibilities & File Limitation Action

As family members still mourn, owners of the ship have filed for protection in Florida federal court to avoid taking responsibility for the deaths of the 33 crewmembers that were onboard the El Faro when it sunk. TOTE Maritime, TOTE Inc., TOTE Services Inc., and several other owners have been named in the lawsuit filed by our firm on behalf of a woman who lost her husband. These owners are now trying to shirk their responsibilities by using an outdated law created back in 1851.

The owners have filed for a limitation action, which essentially means there would be a limit on how much they can be considered liable for the deaths of their crew. The company claims that the El Faro was “seaworthy and properly manned,” but many have brought up the fact that the sunken cargo ship had prior propulsion issues in hurricanes, which may have played a major factor of its sinking when hit by Hurricane Joaquin. The engine issue was something the company was likely aware of ahead of time and did nothing about.

How Can a Limitation Action Effect El Faro Families?

If the owners were granted a limitation action, it could cap their liability at $1 million, which would be around $30,000 per each crewmember’s life. That hardly seems just for the lives of those lost in the worst cargo shipping disaster involving a U.S.-flagged ship in the last three decades. TOTE also asked for an injunction against the opening or prosecution of any legal actions against them over the El Faro. That means anyone who tries to pursue a suit against them would be slapped with a lawsuit back— further limiting the justice family members can seek for the loss of their loved ones.

Many see this move by a company that knowingly sent a vessel with a track record of problems into a dangerous hurricane as extremely insensitive, aggressive, and too soon. The search for crew was just called off three weeks ago, and now the owners are standing up while families are still grieving and essentially saying they won’t accept any responsibility.

Arnold & Itkin Takes on Ship Owners

There has been growing coverage on the matter by the media, including articles by CNN, NBC News, GCaptain, Bangor Daily News, and the Portland Press Herald. As the team at Arnold & Itkin steps in to fight for the rights of family members who lost their loved ones, owners of the El Faro have responded by trying to block further lawsuits. As owners of the vessel fight to gain protection from the death claims, Arnold & Itkin refuses to back down.

Attorney Kurt Arnold has commented on this issue, saying that “The defendants may attempt to escape responsibility for their wrongdoing by trying to grasp onto a ludicrously outdated nineteenth-century law that limits the liability that a shipping company faces after a maritime disaster.”

Our team is well-versed in maritime laws and will fight the action. “We want the companies involved to take responsibility for their role in this tragedy, and we want other shipping companies to learn from these mistakes," Kurt proclaimed in a recent statement. Arnold & Itkin will stand by our clients and do everything in our legal power to achieve justice. As Attorney Kurt Arnold said, “If Tote is telling the families and the press they want to do the right thing, then they should do it.”

You can read more about the story in the news:

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