• ITVI.USA
    15,285.200
    -0.340
    0%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.779
    0.003
    0.1%
  • OTRI.USA
    21.420
    -0.030
    -0.1%
  • OTVI.USA
    15,255.990
    -0.630
    0%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    3.300
    -0.240
    -6.8%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    2.950
    -0.020
    -0.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.440
    0.000
    0%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.310
    0.060
    1.8%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.150
    0.020
    0.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    3.950
    -0.100
    -2.5%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    1.000
    0.8%
  • ITVI.USA
    15,285.200
    -0.340
    0%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.779
    0.003
    0.1%
  • OTRI.USA
    21.420
    -0.030
    -0.1%
  • OTVI.USA
    15,255.990
    -0.630
    0%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    3.300
    -0.240
    -6.8%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    2.950
    -0.020
    -0.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.440
    0.000
    0%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.310
    0.060
    1.8%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.150
    0.020
    0.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    3.950
    -0.100
    -2.5%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    1.000
    0.8%
American ShipperShippingTrade and Compliance

NTSB to use submersibles to look for El Faro wreck

The entire investigation into the loss of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico ship will take 12-18 months, but the NTSB will release findings on an “as needed” basis in advance of its final report.

   The National Transportation Safety Board will use search and recovery experts in an attempt to locate the wreck of the TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico cargo ship El Faro in the hopes of recovering the voyage data recorder on board the ship.
   Advances in submersible technology, including those honed through exploration of the wreck of the Titanic, have given investigators the ability to work at the seafloor even in the deep waters where the El Faro is believed to have sunk last week as it approached the eye of Hurricane Joaquin near Crooked Island in the Bahamas.
   Bella Dinh-Zarr, vice chairman of the NTSB, said Thursday night that the U.S. Navy will commerce a search for the El Faro on behalf of the NTSB, document it, and if feasible, recover the voyage data recorder that would contain both voice recordings from the bridge and data, including navigation information. But she cautioned such an operation is “very complex.”
   First the Navy will have to locate the ship and the ability to recover the recorder will depend on, among other things, how the ship is positioned on the bottom of the ocean. Dinh-Zarr said the Navy operation would begin in the next several weeks, but is dependent on the weather.
   The entire NTSB  investigation is likely to take 12-18 months to conclude, but the agency may issue an accident docket in six to nine months in which it will start revealing information gleaned from its investigation. Dinh-Zarr invited the public to contact the NTSB if it they have relevant information.
   She indicated there will be an information blackout from “parties” to the NTSB investigation which today includes four organizations: the NTSB itself, U.S. Coast Guard, TOTE, and American Bureau of Shipping.
   “I know that some questions have surfaced about who can provide information related to NTSB’s accident investigation,” she said at what would be the last on-scene press briefing in Jacksonville. “Once a party joins the NTSB’s investigation they are not permitted to release documents or talk publicly about the investigation without NTSB’s permission.
   “All of our parties are complying with that requirement and they are cooperating fully with the NTSB investigators in helping to gather the facts. It is only the NTSB who will provide information related to this accident investigation.”
   Since arriving in Jacksonville on Tuesday, NTSB investigators have interviewed the captain of the El Faro’s sister ship El Yunque for hours, and Dinh-Zarr said he provided a wealth of information about both ships and TOTE. She said the ship master, who also previously served as first mate onboard El Faro, confirmed the two ships passed within visual distance of each other as the El Faro was sailing toward Joaquin.
NTSB investigators plan to visit El Yunque, which is nearly identical to El Faro, today and the document features on the vessel, including the location of the voyage data recorder.  
   Investigators have also interviewed the last person who had contact with the master of the ship, the so-called “designated person ashore,” or DPA, a shore-based safety officer employed by TOTE.
   She revealed that the master had left a voice mail message for the DPA at approximately 7 a.m. on Oct. 1, the day the ship disappeared. The master immediately called again and this time spoke with the DPA, saying the ship had lost propulsion, taken on water and was listing at 15 degrees. The DPA said the captain’s demeanor was calm.
   The NTSB has also interviewed port engineers, several relief crew engineers, and the Jacksonville terminal manager who oversees the individuals who load the vessel, and has convened a group of meteorological experts to look at weather conditions from the time the ship departed Jacksonville last Tuesday until it disappeared on Thursday.
   In addition to its regular crew of 28, there were five Polish shipyard workers on El Faro preparing the ship for work to be done at the Grand Bahama Shipyard. The ship was being transferring to the West Coast where it was to operate in the Alaska trade. TOTE is putting new engines its “Orca Class” trailer ships in the Tacoma-Anchorage run so they can use liquefied natural gas as fuel.
   In response to a query from American Shipper, TOTE said the five contractors on board El Faro “were carrying out preparation work, such as running electrical cable, for modifications to meet the cargo needs for that trade. These modifications had no association with the integrity or propulsion of the vessel.”
  The El Faro was scheduled to be replaced in the Jacksonville to Puerto Rico trade by the Isla Bella, a ship built by General Dynamic’s National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. yard in San Diego, Calif. The ship is currently undergoing sea trials in the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of the U.S.-Mexico border.
   Dinh-Zarr said NTSB is still discussing exactly what equipment it needs for the investigation, but Christopher Johnson in the Naval Sea Systems Command Public Affairs office said the Navy was already preparing several pieces of search and salvage equipment that could be used in the operation.
   These include a towed pinger locator designed to listen to the sounds emanating from a voyage data recorder, a system that has side-scan sonar, and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that can take pictures and manipulate things on the ocean floor.
   The voyage data recorder begins pinging when it is submerged in water and has a battery life of about a month. But Dinh-Zarr said beyond a month, other means can be used to search for the black box.
   If the wreck is found the ROV has “a suite of tools that can manipulate things if necessary,” said Johnson. Investigators in a ship on the surface can manipulate the ROV, which is connected by a fiber optic cable. 
   The equipment would be operated by Phoenix International Holdings of Largo, Md., which has a contract with the Navy for search and recovery work. Phoenix has done work for the Navy to locate and recover equipment at similar depths including a U.S. Air Force F-16 aircraft from over 16,400 feet of sea water.

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.

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