Wednesday, November 4, 2015

RoRo/LoLo cargo Vessel Sinking in Hurricane Joaquin Leaves Questions Unanswered

Storm Caused Tragedy but Could She Have Been Located Earlier?
Shipping News Feature
US – The tragic loss of the El Faro, a US registered RoRo/LoLo cargo vessel during Hurricane Joaquin last month has led for a call to install refined aircraft style ‘black boxes’ in large cargo vessels. The ship went down whilst en route from Jacksonville, Florida, bound for Puerto Rico on the early morning of September 30 with the loss of all 33 hands. The following day the master reported the ship had lost power and had a 15 degree list but that water ingress had been contained. It is likely that the ship then encountered swells of up to 60 feet and 90+ miles per hour winds.

As has been seen before, bad weather can have tragic consequences if water enters a RoRo ship where the large open decks can fill and cause a disaster. It took until last week to find the vessel after a US Navy Powhatan class ocean going tug, USNS Apache located her on October 31 using sonar and, one day later, made a positive identification with a remote submersible.

The loss of the El Faro has reportedly triggered a slew of multi-million dollar lawsuits from the dead crews’ relatives whilst the owner, Tote Maritime, is adamant that the vessel was both seaworthy and properly manned. Now the question of how long it took to locate the ship has started a serious debate as to the way many modern ships are equipped with out of date technology in this regard.

Large merchant ships carry EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons), a requirement of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) under Global Maritime Distress and Safety System regulations. The regulations also mandate the installation of suitable radio equipment which allows automatic distress calls are broadcast when the crew are unable to.

The technology however has moved on since the regulations were introduced in 1992 and there are calls for a general update, with the compulsory carriage of recording devices, capable of containing several hours of video and audio records from the bridge and beyond, readings from essential equipment, plus the ability to eject automatically to the surface when submerged. These ‘black boxes’ could then take on the role of the standard EPIRB’s to enable swift location and recovery, and possibly save more lives in the process.