The voyage data recorder transcript released by the National Transportation Safety Board covers El Faro’s final 26 hours at sea. The ship was equipped with a simplified VDR, which recorded bridge conversations and sounds as well as limited navigational data such as GPS position, speed and heading. It also recorded AIS traffic information, although crew noted there were no nearby vessels during much of the voyage.
Here are excerpts of the roughly 510-page document.
Capt. Michael Davidson and El Faro’s chief mate discussing their revised route traveling farther west and south toward Puerto Rico to avoid a strengthening Hurricane Joaquin:
“It’s a good little diversion, are you feelin’ comfortable with that chief mate?” Davidson asked at 0702.
“Better, yes sir,” the mate responded. “Yeah, like I said the — the other option is drastic.”
“Ya,” the captain said. “It doesn’t warrant it.”
The third mate and AB-3 on watch from 2000 to 0000 discussed the storm at length. At about 2300, the third mate called the captain in his room to discuss the latest weather forecast received on the ship’s Inmarsat-C Safety Net program.
“So, at 0400 we’ll be 22 miles from the center, with max 100 (mph winds) with gusts to 120 and strengthening … so from what I can see is at 0200 we could head south and that would open it up some,” the third mate told Davidson, adding, “just so you know that’s how close we’ll be.”
Davidson’s response is not recorded by the VDR, but the third mate said Davidson “seems to think that we’ll be south of it by then — so the winds won’t be an issue.”
At about 0120, the second mate on watch received another weather update showing the storm had strengthened. She called Davidson with the news. Again, his responses on the call were not recorded by the VDR.
“He said to run it,” the second mate said to the AB-2, referring to the existing course. “Hold onto your ass.”
Davidson got a call at 0543 letting him know the No. 3 cargo hold was flooding. The water appeared to be coming from an open scuttle that the chief mate reported closed at 0600.
“See any cars that broke free or anything like that?” Davidson asked after the chief mate returned to the bridge.
“Not that I can see, just lookin’ from third deck,” the mate responded. “I saw the water pouring down through the scuttle from third deck.”
Davidson commented at about 0612 that he was concerned about the ship’s list. Forty seconds later, he said, “I think we just lost the plant.”
Davidson seemed to believe the engine would be back online soon.
“They’re gunna get that boiler back up online any second,” the captain said at 0633 after speaking with the chief engineer.
“They’re gettin’ that boiler back up. They(‘re) gettin’ lube oil pressure up,” he added.
At 0654 Davidson provided an update on the ship’s status, although it’s not clear to whom he was speaking.
“(It’s) miserable right now. We got … all the wind on the starboard side here. Now a scuttle was left open or popped open or whatever so we got some flooding down in three hold — a significant amount,” he said.
“Everybody’s safe right now, we’re not gunna abandon ship — we’re gunna stay with the ship. We are in dire straits right now. Okay I’m gunna call the office and tell ‘em. There’s no need to ring the general alarm yet — we’re not abandoning ship. The engineers are tryin’ to get the plant back.”
Davidson spoke with TOTE’s designated person ashore (DPA) shortly after 0700. The captain reported the swell from the northeast and appeared to say waves were at least 10 to 12 feet. He also said visibility was very poor and the ship had a 10- to 15-degree list.
“No one’s panicking, um everybody’s been made aware,” he said at 0709. “Our safest bet is to stay with the ship during this particular time — the weather is ferocious out here.”
“I wanna push that button — I wanna push that SSAS (Ship Security Alert System) button — I wanna send some alarms (in/on) our GMDSS console. I wanna wake everybody up,” Davidson told the DPA at 0712.
“Everybody’s safe right now, we’re in survival mode now,” the captain said.
Davidson ordered crew to put on immersion suits at 0728 and one minute later the second mate spotted containers in the water. The captain ordered the abandon-ship alarm at 0729. From 0731 until the recording stopped, Davidson remained on the bridge with AB-1.
“Come on (AB-1), gotta move. (We) gotta move. You gotta get up. You gotta snap out of it — and we gotta get out,” Davidson said, later urging the helmsman to work his way toward Davidson.
“It’s time to come this way,” the captain yelled to the helmsman at 0739. Two seconds later, the recording stopped.