El Faro disaster: Will another ship sail into a hurricane?

Posted at 7:12 AM, Oct 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-06 07:12:22-04

A year ago this month, Hurricane Joaquin slammed into El Faro, sinking the cargo ship and killing all 33 people aboard.

Its replacement, Isla Bella, could travel the same route this week despite the looming Hurricane Matthew — if its captain does not foresee any risks.

Radar image of Hurricane Matthew on Thursday, October 6

Radar image of Hurricane Matthew on Thursday, October 6

Tote Marine, which operates the Isla Bella, said it’s up to the captain to decide whether the ship will depart for its three-day trip from Puerto Rico to Jacksonville, Florida.

Hurricane Matthew pounded Haiti and Cuba, and is making its way to the Bahamas and the United States in the coming days.

Isla Bella’s latest position was in Puerto Rico, ship-tracking website Marine Traffic showed Thursday morning.

Company: We trust our captains

By late Tuesday, Tote Marine had not announced any change in Isla Bella’s schedule as a result of the massive storm. It said captains are at liberty to change course for reasons such as weather, crew illness or to help another ship at sea.

“Our crews are trained to deal with unfolding weather situations and are prepared to respond to emerging situations while at sea,” Tote Marine spokesman Mike Hanson said in a statement.

Hanson said they have “great confidence” that their officers will adjust their sailing schedules accordingly.

He could not say when a decision on the ship’s schedule might be made.

When El Faro sailed into a storm and capsized last year, Tote Marine expressed the same view, saying it trusts its captains to make the right decision.

El Faro’s sinking

El Faro was on its way from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico — the reverse of Isla Bella — when it encountered the monster storm on October 1 last year.

Its sinking was one of the deadliest American maritime disasters in 30 years.

The Coast Guard concluded it capsized as Hurricane Joaquin churned across the Atlantic. Of the crew of 28 Americans and five Polish nationals, none survived.

A search team later found the wreck of the El Faro at a depth of about 15,000 feet near the ship’s last known position.

Critics repeat one question: Why?

After the ship capsized, critics repeated one question: Why did El Faro go ahead with its scheduled route despite the risk of a potential hurricane?

The owners of the cargo ship defended the decision to send it.

The captain had a “sound plan” to avoid Hurricane Joaquin, but the ship’s main propulsion failed, stranding the crew in the path of the storm, the owners said at the time.

The captain had said the ship was listing, or leaning 15 degrees, but it was unclear whether that was due to the wind or environmental conditions, and what impact it had on the propulsion system.

When the ship left port, Joaquin was forecast to be a tropical storm, but it strengthened significantly to a Category 4 hurricane.

Matthew is a Category 3 hurricane.