Ship inspector testifies at El Faro hearings

Jacksonville-based cargo ship sank in Caribbean during Hurricane Joaquin


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The fourth day of Coast Guard hearings into the sinking of cargo ship El Faro began Thursday with testimony from a surveyor who inspected the ship nearly four months before its ill-fated voyage.

The ship sank Oct. 1 near the Bahamas en route to Puerto Rico during Hurricane Joaquin.

A U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation is looking into the ship's final voyage.

WATCH: El Faro hearings Round 2

Mark Larose, a surveyor with the American Bureau of Shipping, testified Thursday that he inspected the ship on June 16, 2015, but they only inspect 20 percent of the ship each year over a 5-year period, so over the course of five years, the entire ship is inspected.

Larose said that was the only time he ever inspected the ship and he only learned one day before he would be the one conducting it. The Coast Guard requires 14-days notice on inspections, but Larose said that he was adequately prepared for the inspection despite the short notice.

He didn’t recall anything being overdue for survey.

Larose was asked what he would do if he noticed an issue with something such as lifeboats during an inspection. He told the panel something like that would be reported to the Coast Guard right away.

He also pointed out that, while he could pull a ship’s inspection certificate, he and his company could not physically make the ship stay in port. He said that if the ship left without having a certificate, that would be an issue the Coast Guard would address.

"If there was a scenario like that, and it was noticed that there was a problem with the lifeboat, it would be immediately be brought up being part of the safety system for the vessel," Larose said. "It would be immediately noted to the Coast Guard."

El Faro sailed with outdated weather forecast

El Faro was sent outdated weather forecasts for what became Hurricane Joaquin hours after it set sail, according to testimony Wednesday.

According to executives with Applied Weather Technology, which delivers forecasts through the BonVoyage system, the forecasts come from the National Weather Service, but the data must be inputted into the BonVoyage system, which can take nearly nine hours.

The BonVoyage system provides a forecast that extends out to at least 16 days, showing surface pressure, wind, waves and swells. It also provides a three-day forecast for surface events.

It takes roughly three hours for the National Weather Service to push an updated forecast to the public. Then it takes AWT a few hours to get the data plugged into its system, essentially that means the forecasts on the ship are typically old.

The attorney representing Capt. Michael Davidson's widow asked the company's representatives if the information being pushed out is nine hours old. They confirmed that it is.

They also confirmed to the investigative panel that the projected path for Hurricane Joaquin was out-of-date by at least 10 hours at 5 a.m. Sept. 30, as El Faro was hours out to sea. It was a duplicate of the track that came in six hours before that.

The company said the track was processed late and didn't make it into the updated storm package.

That essentially means El Faro's crew did not have an accurate track of the storm.

"The underlining model data was up-to-date,” said Rich Brown, vice president of operations for AWT. “The winds, the waves, the pressure were all up-to-date. The storm track was out-of-date.”

By about 10 hours, Brown admitted.

About 12 hours after seeing the inaccurate map, Davidson reported a “marine emergency” as water made its way into three parts of the hull, and the ship lost propulsion in the middle of the storm.

“What I take away from this is if you are in a position to access the internet, you have much quicker data being able to download this than a service like this,” maritime attorney Rod Sullivan said. “Now if you're going across the ocean, and you don't have internet access like this, and you're someone like the El Faro, I don't think it provided much information."

Jim Wagstaff, the vice president of operations for TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, was questioned by the panel on the ship's mechanical safety and boiler repairs.

“I may have been copied on an email, but it isn't something I would personally be managing,” he said. “That's what we have TOTE services for. We depend on them to handle those types of problems.”

These hearings are scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each weekday through May 27 at the Prime Osborn Convention Center.