Offshore InjuryBlog

Coast Guard Questions Owner’s Part in El Faro Sinking

Today’s blog is an update on the story we posted on Tuesday. Read our previous blog for the whole story.

Tuesday’s Marine Board hearing centered on Philip Morrell, vice president of marine operations at TOTE. The Coast Guard panelists questioned Morrell for nearly 8 hours about the chain of command. Their line of questioning honed in on the number of emails exchanged Captain Michael Davidson and TOTE officials.

Morrell asserted the company’s position, that Davidson was fully responsible for the decisions leading up to the sinking of the 790-foot freighter. However, Keith Fawcett, the marine casualty expert on the investigative panel, noted there were few emails produced by TOTE compared to thousands written in response to past hurricanes, as noted in our previous post.

When asked if he recalled whether or not he was concerned about Hurricane Joaquin, which has caused tens of millions of dollars in damage to coastal communities prior to the El Faro’s voyage, Morrell said he didn’t remember.

CEO Combative with Investigators

Yesterday, four more TOTE officials (including CEO Philip Greene) were questioned under oath by the panel, who are looking for any evidence of misconduct or negligence on the part of the captain, crew, or TOTE officials. The panel has noted that the crew were properly licensed and qualified, and the ship had the safety equipment it needed. TOTE maintains that the ship lost power for “unknown reasons,” although the ship had a history of losing propulsion.

CEO Philip Greene, when under oath, repeatedly criticized the quality and nature of the Marine Board’s questions, calling them “hypothetical” and “speculative.” One NTSB official told Greene that he was not answering their questions. In response to a question about his actual oversight and involvement in TOTE operations, Greene asserted that he is the president of a sizeable company, and thus trusts his vice presidents to oversee operations competently. 

NTSB to Search for Voyage Data Recorder Again

Late last year, the NTSB conducted a search through the wreckage of the El Faro, looking for its Voyage Data Recorder (the “black box” of seafaring vessels). The VDR would provide answers and data about the final hours of the ship and what led to the ship’s destruction. While the NTSB failed to find it initially, they will search the area again in April.

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