Lack of safety training the focus of El Faro hearings Wednesday

Some families of the victims want more information

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the first time in three rounds of hearings, a former Polish worker who got off the El Faro just days before the final voyage testified on Wednesday via Skype from Poland.

Marek Pupp said through an interpreter that he was never given a safety briefing, never put on a life jacket or immersion suit, and was never a part of safety drills when he was on the ship. The panel has questioned in the past whether Polish working crew was properly trained in safety protocols when sailing on the ship. However Pupp says he never had any safety concerns when on the ship.

Later Wednesday, it is expected that a lifeboat expert will testify, and Thursday we expect to hear testimony about Capt. Michael Davidson’s employment and skills as a captain.

Disciplinary action was the focus of Tuesday's testimony at the El Faro hearings with Capt. John Lawrence, TOTE Services' director of fleet safety, back on the witness stand.

Lawrence was questioned about disciplinary action against a former chief mate who fell asleep on watch. Crew members, on the final voyage, were heard on the voyage data recorder talking about that incident and a lack of punishment for it.

Lawrence said there was discipline handed down, but it was taken care of by human resources. Lawrence was also asked how crew members can remain confidential when reporting issues.

Some families of victims are still waiting for more from the hearings.

"Some of it even sounds like cross-examination. They are going over some of the other testimony to get more clarity and drive the points," said pastor Robert Green, who lost his son Lashawn Rivera in the disaster.

One of those points was about an issue on the ship where a former chief mate fell asleep. A crew member anonymously texted a picture to Lawrence of the crew member. Lawrence said that member wasn’t cooperative and texted back only sporadically about the incident. Eventually, he said, it was passed along to human resources.

"From the company’s point of view, it was more a broken rule or regulation," Green said. "I think the NTSB is trying to get to some of the root causes of what happened. I’m sure there are going to be more refined and defined steps in the disciplinary process when all this is over with."

Green says this round of hearings is helping answer some of his questions after he read the voyage data recorder transcripts over the last couple of months and what he has heard in the first two rounds of hearings.

"I’m just anxious to hear what else is going to come out," Green said. "Especially judging from the transcripts and just comparing information that we have from the VDR to the testimonies that we have received previously."

Only three sessions remain after Tuesday in the final round of hearings.

The 737-foot ship 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.