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Engineer: El Faro Met All Federal Guidelines Before Setting Sail

Feb 13, 2017
Originally published on February 13, 2017 12:27 pm

An engineer with the American Bureau of Shipping testified Thursday the sunken El Faro ship met all guidelines before it sailed in September of 2015.

That contradicts some previous testimony from one naval architect.

Coast Guard architect Jeff Stettler testified Monday the El Faro had certain “vulnerabilities” and would not have met some international guidelines if the vessel was built today. The 40 year old El Faro was built well before those international guidelines were instituted and was grandfathered in later. Some international recommendations are optional for older ships, but all federal regulations must be adhered to.

Previous testimony shows the Coast Guard outsources certain safety inspections to the private American Bureau of Shipping.

The condition of the ship and whether it was loaded properly have been constant themes of the federal probe. During the last hearing in Jacksonville, it was revealed the Coast Guard reviews less than 5 percent of ABS’ safety inspections and of those, 38 percent, or more than 4,000 in a single year, were found to be deficient.

ABS Chief Engineer Tom Gruber told investigators his records show the ship El Faro met all federal requirements before setting sail.

Gruber also testified his company reviews cargo-loading booklets the crew uses to ensure ships are balanced, but it isn't in charge of training the captain on how to use them.

Family members of the many of those who died aboard El Faro continue to attend the Coast Guard Marine Board hearings, hoping to learn details about why the ship sank.

"Some of it’s beyond my understanding due to the applicability of standards," said Glenn Jackson, whose brother, Jack, died in the tragedy. "Some of those things, they appear to be in contrast of mandatory safety.”

Jack Jackson spoke with his brother the night El Faro set sail and is thankful for the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board’s hard work.

“This may go on for quite a while," Jackson said. "From my understanding, the Coast Guard's final report is not expected another year or 18 months. These men and women are doing an incredibly exhaustive research of the records and interviewing the witnesses to get to the cause of this tragedy."

Jackson and his sister Jill Jackson-d’Entermont represent one of only five families that have yet to reach a settlement with the company that owned and operated El Faro — TOTE Services Inc.

During a status hearing Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that a special magistrate judge should be appointed to mediate continuing talks with three families and the multinational shipping company. The judge also said although the NTSB can block the release of its draft reports related to the sinking, nothing should prevent TOTE executives from testifying under oath in the civil case.

The Marine Board of Investigation probe continues today and will go through next Friday.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.

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