El Faro investigators focus again on third-party inspections

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(JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) — U.S. Coast Guard investigators testifying Tuesday about the loss of El Faro renewed their questioning of the third-party program used to monitor the condition of vessels, including the cargo ship that sank in 2015 during Hurricane Joaquin, The Florida Times-Union reported.

Coast Guard Capt. David Flaherty, chief of traveling inspectors at Coast Guard headquarters who oversees the Alternate Compliance Program,  said his office found instances in which vessel operators and the class societies — the third parties including the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) — did not inform the Coast Guard of serious issues with ships as required. The 40-year-old El Faro was enrolled in the program.

Flaherty testified that inspectors had found “extensive wastage” and rust in an exhaust or ventilation duct in El Yunque, El Faro's sister ship, that hadn’t been addressed in years. He said this created a potential for downward flooding. There was paint over years of rust, he said. While the Coast Guard was told by the classification society the other ventilation ducts were sufficient, Flaherty said it was later learned there was wastage in the other ducts, too. Shipowner TOTE intended to move El Yunque to an Alaskan route, but instead the ship was scrapped, he said.

The Coast Guard had placed El Faro on a list of at-risk vessels, but the ship capsized and sank before the list was published. An attorney for ABS previously testified that El Faro had no major structural or mechanical weaknesses.

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By Professional Mariner Staff