TOTE official didn't think 'lives were in danger' in call with El Faro captain

(JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) — Citing the calm demeanor of the captain and second mate, a TOTE Services official who spoke with El Faro before the cargo ship sank said he did not realize the dire circumstances for the vessel and its 33 crewmembers, The Florida Times-Union reported.

“It was far more serious than it first came across to me,” said John Lawrence, then-manager of safety and operations with shipowner TOTE, about his final conversation with Capt. Michael Davidson. “He was extremely calm and professional, along with the second mate when she gave the position (of the ship)."

Lawrence, who testified Monday before the U.S. Coast Guard's Marine Board of Investigation, said he did not realize the seriousness even when Davidson told him they were in survival mode. Davidson told Lawrence that the crew planned to stay with El Faro, although they attempted to abandon the ship within 30 minutes because of the vessel's list and loss of propulsion.

“I didn’t take it that their lives were in danger at the time,” said Lawrence, who is now director of fleet safety with TOTE.

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By Professional Mariner Staff