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Was El Faro Caught In the Perfect Storm?

Now that rescue efforts have been abandoned for survivors of the ill-fated El Faro cargo ship that sank off the Northern coast of the Bahamas, National Transportation Safety Board investigators are tasked with collecting valuable pieces of evidence to prove what went wrong. The U.S. Coast Guard's rigorous search for 33 crew members, which was independent of the NTSB Go Team's efforts, covered an area larger than the state of California but only produced one body in a survival suit and a large debris field from the ship's lifeboats. The top-heavy ship had left Jacksonville, FL, loaded with 391 containers and bound for San Juan, Puerto Rico, as Hurricane Joaquin was closing on the islands of the Bahamas.

So, what happened and who is liable for the tragic loss of life? These are the questions that will have to be answered in coming months as investigators and maritime attorneys recreate and document the events. For whatever reasons, the cargo ship sailed directly into tropical weather that was forecast to develop into a category 4 or 5 hurricane. As for the safety equipment on board, TOTE Maritime, the company that owns the 790-foot ship said that it carried two fiberglass lifeboats that would hold a crew of 43 each and were supposed to be unsinkable even if the vessel took on water. In addition, crew members had survival suits and the ship was equipped with five lifeboats that would accommodate more than 100 persons.

According to a spokesman from TOTE, the captain initially had a plan to sail around the major storm and had conferred with El Faro's sister ship which was returning along a similar route. Unfortunately, the ship lost propulsion at a critical point of the journey making it impossible to navigate the increasingly dangerous waters. Owners of the ship that is believed to have sank in 15,000 feet of water (more than 2500 feet deeper than the Titanic) just to the north of Crooked Island have said the captain, who had more than two decades of experience, left port with a sound plan which would have enabled the cargo ship to easily pass around the storm with an adequate margin of safety. Even though the experienced crew worked diligently to recover the prop, the last communication from the ship indicates the powerless vessel was taking on water and listing at 15 degrees.

The Jones Act of 1920 is a federal statute that establishes workers rights at sea. The statute allows for the possibility of compensation for surviving family members when a seaman is injured or killed when the captain, another crew member, a contractor, or the ship's owner is found negligent in creating and maintaining a safe work environment. Although admiralty laws are complex for even the most seasoned maritime lawyer, the attorneys at Grossman Law Firm understand the importance of accurately documenting and presenting a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. If your loved one was lost sea, contact us today to learn more about your options for seeking compensation from those who are ultimately held to be accountable.