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El Faro’s ‘black box’ has been recovered

The voyage data recorder from the El Faro, the cargo ship that sank during Hurricane Joaquin on Oct. 1, 2015, has officially been retrieved.

   The voyage data recorder (VDR) from the  El Faro was successfully recovered from the ocean floor late Monday evening.
   The El Faro sank en route from Jacksonville, Fla. to San Juan, Puerto Rico during Hurricane Joaquin Oct. 1, 2015, resulting in the loss of all 33 crew members.
   The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it hopes the VDR, which was designed to record navigational data and communications between crew members on the ship’s bridge, will reveal information about the final hours of the ship’s voyage and the circumstances leading up to it sinking.
   “The recovery of the recorder has the potential to give our investigators greater insight into the incredible challenges that the El Faro crew faced,” NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart said. “But it’s just one component of a very complex investigation. There is still a great deal of work to be done in order to understand how the many factors converged that led to the sinking and the tragic loss of 33 lives.”
   He thanked employees from the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the National Science Foundation and the University of Rhode Island who worked with NTSB investigators and support staff with over three missions in 10 months to recover the recorder, which is similar to the “black boxes” found on aircraft.
   On the current mission, the Military Sealift Command’s fleet ocean tug USNS Apache departed Virginia Beach, Va. last Friday with personnel from the NTSB, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy and Phoenix International. After arriving at the accident location on Monday morning, technicians maneuvered CURV-21, a deep ocean remotely operated underwater vehicle, down about 15,000 feet to the sea floor where the wreckage of El Faro rests and the recorder had been previously located.
   Specialized tools were used to extricate the VDR capsule from the mast structure to which it was attached. The capsule was recovered to the deck of the ocean tug at about 10:30 pm Monday evening.
   The VDR will be examined while at sea by NTSB investigators aboard the Apache, to assess the condition of the device and to ensure proper preservation for readout and further examination ashore.
   After the Apache returns from sea on or around Aug. 12, the VDR will then be transported to the NTSB’s laboratory. From there, a team of specialists will audition the recording. It is not yet known how long it may take to review the data and audio information, which the VDR may have captured.
   The NTSB said while the minimum design requirement for VDRs of this type is for 12 hours of recording, it may contain additional information — the review of which is a thorough and time consuming undertaking. NTSB will provide updates as investigators learn more about the condition and contents of El Faro’s VDR.
   NTSB said additional photographs and video of the El Faro wreck and debris field will be completed today, concluding NTSB’s activities at the site. No further missions to the accident site are planned unless warranted as the investigation continues.

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Chris Dupin

Chris Dupin has written about trade and transportation and other business subjects for a variety of publications before joining American Shipper and Freightwaves.