Crew member's widow calls El Faro hearings 'disgusting'

Coast Guard Marine Board hearing into sinking of cargo ship enters week 2

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the second week of the final Marine Board of Investigation hearing into the sinking of the Jacksonville-based cargo ship El Faro got underway, the widow of a crew member described Monday's testimony as "disgusting."

After hours of testimony from a safety official with TOTE, the company that owned the vessel, Rochelle Hamm, the widow of El Faro crewman Frank Hamm III, said she wasn’t happy with what she had sat through.

"It's depressing," Hamm said. "We're still playing the game of pointing fingers. We don't know. It's real frustrating, but at the end of the day, God is going to fix it. All of the truth will come out."

Hamm, who's spearheading a petition to institute a Hamm Alert -- named after her late husband to change safety regulations in the maritime industry -- said there was a lot if deflecting of blame during the hearing Monday. 

"Everybody was at fault -- as a whole," Hamm said.

Three members of TOTE testified Monday, touching on topics like whether they tracked El Faro's voyage plan, leaks in the engine and the last phone call to shore from Capt. Michael Davidson. 

The longest testimony came from Lee Peterson, the former director of safety and marine operations for TOTE.

Peterson was questioned about aspects that went wrong when the El Faro sank, and was asked whether TOTE tracked the routes of El Faro, or its sister ship, El Yunque. 

Keith Fawcett, a member of the Marine Board, asked Peterson, "Did TOTE know the route that the El Yunque would take as they departed San Juan on the morning of the 29th?"

"Well, yeah, the crew did know," Peterson responded. 

"Sir, I'm asking if TOTE knew the route?" Fawcett said.

"TOTE is the crew, I mean, the crew is part of TOTE," Peterson said.

Concerns about the emergency contact system with the shore was also brought up Monday.

Hamm said it’s all just more encouragement for her petition.

"A whole lot of problems. And it’s helping me to build my list more and more," Hamm said.

There was also a lot of talk about the sump system, which handles oil runoff, and whether is was leaking oil at any point.

The 737-foot El Faro sank about 7:40 a.m. Oct. 1, 2015, fewer than 90 minutes after losing power just east of the Bahamas as Hurricane Joaquin approached.

The final round of hearings will resume Tuesday and continue through Friday. The Coast Guard will then issue a report one year to 18 months later of what was learned from the loss of El Faro that could be used to prevent a future tragedy.

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