JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On the penultimate day of the final Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation hearing into the sinking of the El Faro, two witnesses testified Thursday, including the former crewing manager for TOTE Service.
The Jacksonville-based cargo ship sank in October 2015 during a hurricane while en route to Puerto Rico. All 33 crew members on board died.
Thursday morning, in addition to photos of the crew members that have been placed on the chairs in the front row all week, sat the helmet of crewman Frank Hamm III.
The green work helmet washed ashore on Ormond Beach last summer and was later returned to his wife, Rochelle Hamm.
Seeing the helmet was very emotional for crew members' families, but Rochelle Hamm was asked to bring the helmet on Thursday because it was the only tangible thing any of the families have from the El Faro's final voyage.
"Hope, grace and mercy for me. I don’t know why this happened, but God is still in control. I know that," Rochelle Hamm said.
The person who found the helmet, which has Frank Hamm's name on the front and the back, messaged Rochelle Hamm on Facebook about the discovery.
"God allowed it where we can still make out who it belonged to. It doesn’t look like the ship does, bent up, torn apart. It’s still in one piece," Rochelle Hamm said.
Hamm said she plans to put it in a secure case, but when other families asked her if she would bring it, she gladly did.
Just feet away from the helmet, Melissa Clark, former crewing manager, testified Thursday morning, saying the reason El Faro Capt. Michael Davidson was passed up for one of TOTE’s new ships is because she felt there were better candidates.
During a recess, she and other families of crew members consoled each other, as she knows these families well.
She told the board there had been some frustrations from crew members about Davidson, but they were reluctant to file formal complaints. She added those were common complaints on all ships.
Don Matthews, marine operations manager for TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, will testify Friday on the final day of the hearing. He has testified previously in the first hearing, but was called again.