The brother of one of El Faro’s able bodied seamen who died when the ship went down is speaking out after the release of a 200-page report from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Board of Investigation.
Glen Jackson lost his brother Jack when the ship lost propulsion two years ago and sailed into the path of category 4 Hurricane Joaquin.
Jackson told WJCT News he is grateful for all the work the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board did over the course of three investigatory hearings, but that some of the report’s 39 recommendations don’t go far enough.
“Unfortunately, what I’m struck by is that several of these recommendations are the same ones that were recommended after the sinking of the Marine Electric in 1983,” he said.
The Marine Electric was a smaller cargo ship that went down off the coast of Virginia carrying coal. It too sailed through heavy weather and 31 of its 34-member crew were killed. It resulted in significant changes to maritime safety and resulted in the Coast Guard’s creation of the rescue swimmer program.
However, Jackson said, it’s frustrating that some recommendations made after that disaster’s investigation had to be recommended again after the death of his brother. Specifically, Jackson said it’s unacceptable that closed lifeboats still haven’t been implemented across the board.
“This was recommended in 1983, that enclosed lifeboats would be onboard U.S. flag vessels,” he said. “Ships like the El Faro were grandfathered in.”
A law mandating these types of lifeboats was passed in 1986, but ships built before that year have been exempt from following that regulation. Around 50 deep water freighters are currently sailing with older, open lifeboats, according to the Coast Guard.
Other recommendations made during the Marine Electric investigation that once again came up with El Faro include high-water alarms in all areas of the ship.
Jackson said the issue with implementing such recommendations is that many have to be passed through legislation.
“Again the problem here is the Coast Guard can recommend things be done, but unless Congress has the will to ensure the safety of seafarers, nothing will change,” he said.
Jackson said he believes these recommendations could become law with the help of Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, who in the wake of the sinking said he was considering his own Senate investigation into the tragedy.
Jackson doesn’t want to stop with simply implementing what the Coast Guard has recommended; he wants to take it a step further.
The Coast Guard has taken some blame for the tragedy, because among other things, investigators found they could provide more oversight over ship inspections.
Since the mid-1990s, the Coast Guard has delegated the bulk of inspections to special classification societies like the American Bureau of Shipping in what’s called the Alternate Compliance Program.
The Coast Guard report recommends it take a more active role in double-checking inspections, but Jackson said he’d like to see the Coast Guard take full control of ship safety checks in the future.
“I think for the safety for all seafarers on U.S. flag vessels, that the Coast Guard should be the only party involved in marine safety inspections,” he said.
WJCT has reached out to other family members and Sen. Nelson for comment. This story will be updated with their additional statements should they provide them.
Ryan Benk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @RyanMichaelBenk.