Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Captain: El Faro Unstable in Calm Seas; Testimony Paints Picture of Ship with Problems Company Won't Handle

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Captain: El Faro Unstable in Calm Seas; Testimony Paints Picture of Ship with Problems Company Won't Handle

Article excerpt

Byline: Sebastian Kitchen

A longtime captain who once commanded the El Faro said Tuesday the cargo ship became "slow to right" itself and would "lean over from rudder command alone" even in clear conditions. Its operators, the captain said later, were slow to report issues with the El Faro's sister ship.

Captain Jack Hearn, who was captain for 25 of his 40 years at sea on a number of ships, said the El Faro's lean was there even without "rolling with a heavy swell," which was a concern. Hearn told a federal investigative panel meeting in Jacksonville that they would build in more stability for voyages.

Hearn is one of the first former captains of the El Faro to bring its stability into question. One testified Monday that the El Faro was a "Cadillac."

Hearn's testimony Tuesday came during a second Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation hearing into the El Faro sinking Oct. 1 during Hurricane Joaquin in which all 33 mariners aboard were lost.

The captain said the ship generally handled rough seas well. Its vulnerabilities included water integrity-issues, including wear on hatches and boilers that often needed maintenance, he said.

Hearn testified that he had difficulty getting the company that operated the El Faro, Tote Services, to report to the U.S. Coast Guard a hole in an area of the sister ship, El Morro, that was supposed to be watertight.

Hearn was disappointed, he said, and Tote officials knew it. There were holes in a cargo hold and there was a voyage on the ship before the problem was addressed, Hearn testified. Hearn also talked about:

- Deficient life boats and life suits on ships during his time with the company.

- Declining experience among the crews, which he said was a concern.

- Delays in responses from staff on shore to emails from captains.

The captain's departure from Tote was also a matter for discussion Tuesday after Hearn testified that he was given an option to resign or be fired following an incident on the El Morro. But an attorney for the widow of Michael Davidson, the captain at the helm of the El Faro when it sank, questioned Hearn's reliability as a witness. …

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