The captain of the cargo ship El Faro that sank near the Bahamas last year refused to listen to his crew members’ suggestions that he alter course just hours before the vessel was destroyed by Hurricane Joaquin, killing all 33 onboard.
The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday released a 510-page audio transcript from the ship’s voyage data recorder and other data about the wreck, but said it was not yet ready to identify the cause behind the sinking, which occurred during a routine cargo run between Jacksonville, Florida, and Puerto Rico.
The 790-foot freighter went down on the morning of October 1, 2015, after losing propulsion in the worst cargo shipping disaster involving a US-flagged vessel in more than three decades.
The recordings reveal that at least two top crew members tried in vain to convince the captain, Michael Davidson, to change course as Hurricane Joaquin drew near, but Davidson rejected those suggestions, convinced that El Faro will be 60 miles south of the eye of the storm and ‘should be fine.’
At 11pm on the eve of the sinking, a third mate called the captain twice, suggesting that he alter course due to the weather conditions., reported WABI-TV.
About two hours later, Davidson’s second mate called him, saying he should alter course because new weather data showed the hurricane was drawing near.
But the captain insisted to stay the course, believing that the ship would be safe south of the storm.
In fact, El Faro ended up being 22 miles north-northwest of the center of the hurricane when it sank.
‘We’re gettin’ conflicting reports as to where the center of the storm is,’ Davidson told his chief mate at 5.03am, according to the transcript. The alarm to abandon ship sounded about 2-1/2 hours later.
The transcript, the longest one ever produced by NTSB investigators covering 10 hours and drawn from six microphones on the ship’s bridge, may be crucial in determining why the ship sailed close to the storm’s center and why it was unable to withstand it, NTSB officials said at a news conference broadcast online.
CBS News reported that the VDR transcript shows the captain ordering crew members to abandon ship and get into life rafts.
Later, Davidson tells someone, ‘You gotta get up. You gotta snap out of it– and we gotta get out.’
At one point, a helmsman says, ‘I’m a goner’ and another helmsman asks the captain, ‘You gonna leave me?’
The transcript ends on a chilling note, with Davidson telling an apparently panic-stricken crew member: ‘Don’t freeze up … I’m not leaving you. Let’s go’
NTSB officials noted that the transcript is fractured. In the crucial hours before the deadly sinking, it is pocked with conversations that investigators could not entirely make out because of background noise or distance from microphones.
One question investigators are trying to answer is which weather data the El Faro crew relied on. Davidson received data by email that was six hours behind other information the crew received, officials said.
‘There were many sources of weather information. In establishing what was likely viewed by various members of the crew at specific times during the voyage, that is part of the NTSB’s ongoing investigation,’ James Ritter, director of the NTSB’s Office of Research and Engineering, said at the news conference.
A data recorder, including the voice recording from the bridge, was recovered from the wreckage about 15,000 feet below the surface of the ocean last summer.
Thomson Reuters Eikon data previously revealed that the El Faro was sailing at near full speed into the center of the storm, raising questions about the captain’s voyage plan.
SNEJANA FARBEROV, DAILYMAIL.COM