Offshore InjuryBlog

The El Faro Voyage Data Recorder Has Not Been Found

As of today, the National Transportation Safety Board has concluded their search through the wreckage and debris field of the El Faro, the freighter that was lost at sea in early October. Unfortunately, we have received word that the NTSB’s search for the Voyage Data Recorder has ended without success.

As we reported on a previous blog, the VDR is a vital part of any offshore disaster investigation. It contains a vast amount of information from a vessel’s last 24 hours, gathered from sensors placed all over the ship. Had the VDR been recovered, several vital details about the El Faro disaster would have been revealed.

For example, the VDR typically possesses information like:

  • The vessel’s velocity
  • The vessel’s heading
  • Audio from the bridge
  • All radio communications
  • Hull stresses and timestamps
  • Timestamps and status of hull doors
  • Wind speed and heading at certain times

The ship’s destruction tragically ended the lives of 33 crew members. As of November 16th, Arnold & Itkin represents several family members of the El Faro crew, and we are keeping our readers updated on the investigation as we receive word from the investigators. Our team is currently fighting efforts from TOTE Inc., the operators of the El Faro, to prevent any lawsuits based on a maritime law from 1851. Their claim would limit their own liability in these events, regardless of the facts.

Understanding the El Faro Disaster

Built in 1975, the freighter known as the El Faro was originally christened the Puerto Rico, and frequently lost power as a result of faulty equipment. Between its age and poor maintenance, the El Faro gained a reputation for equipment failure. In fact, the U.S. Coast Guard has cited 23 different maintenance issues with the ship in the last 12 years.

Before its final voyage, the El Faro was undergoing significant repairs, both before and during the final trip. It was scheduled for even more repairs as soon as it was expected to return. Unfortunately, it never had a chance to finish its equipment overhaul. On September 30th, the ship failed to avoid the storm and sailed into the winds of Hurricane Joaquin, taking on water due to an open hatch and 15-degree listing. Although the last communication from the ship indicated that flooding was controlled and the hatch was closed, the ship ceased communication shortly thereafter. In early November, wreckage was found that was determined to be the El Faro, and the Navy and the NTSB began their debris field investigation.

There is not yet any confirmation about why the captain did not try to avoid Hurricane Joaquin more proactively, but the operating company, TOTE Inc., has an industry reputation of prioritizing profits above safety, maintenance, and regulations. On this basis, our attorneys are holding them accountable for the deaths of their crew members and the grief suffered by the families they left behind. Our lawsuits will hopefully provide them with the financial security they need to move forward.

Our firm will continue to fight on behalf of the families of the El Faro crew, and we will relentlessly pursue compensation from TOTE Inc. for their negligent maintenance and operation of their vessel. With or without a VDR, our firm will seek justice for the crew and their loved ones with the full power of the law. Visit our blog for updates on the case.

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