Our Houston Jones Act lawyers are closely following the disappearance of the El Faro, a United States cargo ship that appears to have been lost off the Bahamas coast during Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015.
About The El Faro
The “El Faro,” Spanish for lighthouse, was a United States flagged freight ship. It was built in 1975 by Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. It is 737 feet long. It hailed from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The El Faro received its most recent SOLAS Cargo Ship Safety Radio Certificate on January 27, 2015, and its ISM Safety Management Certificate in September 2014.
Records suggest that the vessel was last formally inspected by the United States Coast Guard/American Bureau of Shipping in February 2011, although there are reports that the ship was inspected earlier this year. The vessel’s documentation was set to expire on October 31, 2015.
The vessel is owned by Sea Star Line LLC in Jacksonville, Florida, a subsidiary company of TOTE Inc.
Disappearance Of The El Faro
The El Faro departed from Jacksonville, Florida on September 29, 2015, when Joaquin was still a tropical storm. The vessel had 28 U.S. sailors aboard, and 5 more from Poland.
The vessel was on a regular cargo supply run to Puerto Rico when it encountered Hurricane Joaquin. The deadly Category 4 storm had estimated wind speeds of 130-140 miles per hour, 30-50 foot waves, and zero visibility when the El Faro disappeared.
In their last recorded report, the El Faro’s crew stated that the vessel was listing 15 degrees and taking on water. The engine failed making it impossible to steer the vessel. The ship sent its final distress signal before going silent near Crooked Island at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 1.
Hopes that the vessel’s crew may have survived took a hit on Saturday, October 3, 2015, when several life rings from the vessel were discovered. Also spotted were a cargo container and oil sheen that investigators suspect to be remnants of the cargo ship.
But as of Monday, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman, Chief Petty Officer Bobby Nash, had not lost hope, stating “we don’t even know if the debris field is from the ship.” But he also added that “we still don’t have communication with the ship.”
But that changed later on Monday, however, when a body was discovered in a survival suit meant to protect crew members from hypothermia. A “heavily damaged” lifeboat from the El Faro was also found.
As of today, the search continues over a 225 mile debris field. Two coast guard cutters, the Northland and the Resolute, are assisting with the search. Family members anxiously await developments at the Seafarer’s International Union Hall in Jacksonville, Florida.
Was The El Faro’s Disappearance The Result Of Poor Planning Or Equipment Failure?
It appears that El Faro’s captain may have been negligent in plotting his route. As Roland Johnson, a standby crew member who was not working when the ship was lost, asked aloud, “My question is: Why did it go out? The storm was there. Why go? Why?”
Equipment issues may also have played a role. The vessel was very old and likely had antiquated systems and machinery. Further, at the time of its disappearance, 5 Polish workers were onboard retrofitting the El Faro for work in Alaska. It is not known whether such issues caused the vessel to sink.
As a U.S.-flagged vessel, the surviving family members may be entitled to assert claims under the Jones Act and U.S. Maritime law. These claims likely include Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness.
Jones Act Lawyers Help Injured Seamen And Their Families
Morrow & Sheppard are privileged to represent injured seamen and their families, as well as the families of those whose loved ones are lost in the service of vessels like the El Faro. We represent victims nationwide in maritime personal injury and wrongful death cases.
Oftentimes the surviving family members of sailors who die at sea are entitled to wrongful death compensation under the Jones Act, Death on the High Seas Act, or General Maritime Law.
If you or a loved one has been injured, or a loved one has been lost at sea, our Houston maritime lawyers would appreciate the opportunity to provide a 100% free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal rights. Your consultation does not obligate you to hire us or file a lawsuit, but if you do, we only get paid if you secure compensation.
Mr. Morrow has membership in the Maritime Law Association, and Morrow & Sheppard have handled numerous Jones Act and maritime injury cases, both the plaintiff’s side and on the defense side. This unique experience helps us secure maximum compensation for our clients.