Offshore InjuryBlog

Navy Searching for Data Recorder in El Faro Wreckage

As of this afternoon, the National Transportation Safety Board and the U.S. Navy’s ongoing accident investigation into the El Faro case has determined the location of the bridge deck. However, the Voyage Data Recorder, normally located at the back of the navigation bridge, is missing. Now, the USNS Apache is combing the debris field for the missing recorder.

The Voyage Data Recorder records data from the numerous sensors onboard a ship, and compresses the information into a durable storage container. The VDR contains the last 24 hours of data of a ship’s journey, which allows investigators to thoroughly examine what may have led to a marine accident or catastrophe. Finding the El Faro’s VDR could provide concrete answers as to what informed the ship captain’s decisions, and what ultimately led to the ship’s destruction.

The VDR contains information such as:

  • Radio communications
  • Hull door status and the times
  • The speed of the vessel
  • The heading of the vessel
  • Wind speed and direction
  • Stress upon the hull and the times
  • Audio from the navigation bridge

An Overview of the El Faro Investigation

El Faro was a 700-foot freighter built in 1975, first named Puerto Rico. The ship had a history of losing power due to faulty equipment—the U.S. Coast Guard documented 23 different issues with the ship in the last 12 years. Prior to what would be its final voyage, the El Faro was undergoing significant repairs, and even more were scheduled during and after its return.

On October 1st, the El Faro and its 33 crewmembers were caught in the powerful winds and swells of Hurricane Joaquin. An open hatch and 15-degree listing resulted in the ship taking on water. Communications indicated that the crew had managed to control the flooding eventually, but within 24 hours communication ceased and the ship was declared missing.

Our firm filed a lawsuit against the operators of the ship: TOTE Inc., as well as TOTE Maritime and TOTE Services, Inc. The company denies any liability, and is currently attempting to block any legal action against it regarding the El Faro and its crew. On November 2nd, the Navy search team aboard the USNS Apache located the wreckage of the El Faro.

As the information is revealed about what occurred on the ship in its final hours and what led to the tragic deaths of the 33 crew members, Arnold & Itkin will continue fighting for justice on behalf of the crew and the families they left behind.

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