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The Tragic Loss of

THE EL FARO By Matthew Bonvento, Senior Manager, Safety, Security, Quality and Regulatory Compliance, Vanuatu Maritime Services Ltd.







hroughout history—maritime or otherwise—new laws, rules, and regulations have been created as a result of disasters or tragedies. In the April 2015 issue of Marine Log (“ISM, A Closer Look,” ML April 2015, p. 31), I wrote about the International Safety Management Code (ISM), which was a result of the March 1987 sinking of the MS Herald of Free Enterprise. The Rollon/Roll-Off ferry capsized just moments after sailing from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, killing 193 passengers and crew. The initial version of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)—adopted January 20,1914 in London—was the result of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. Annex I, Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Oil, to MARPOL came about in 1973 as a response to the spills from a number of oil tankers. Most notably, Samuel Plimsoll spearheaded early Load Line regulations, known as the Plimsoll Line, which was first brought in to British Law in 1894. The latest tragedy, the sinking of the U.S.-flag cargo ship SS El Faro,

24 Marine Log // March 2017

with the loss of all 33 hands onboard, has led to some speculation as to whether new guidelines or regulations will be promulgated in the wake of the tragedy. While I will address that in this article, let me first start off by saying that in no way is this article a condemnation of the efforts of the Master and Crew, or of the actions of Tote. Additionally, I am in no way endorsing any of the below actions, but rather just reporting on the focus of discussions during the joint U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigative hearings.

What’s A Nautical Expert? One thing that becomes abundantly clear when reviewing the transcripts of the joint USCG and NTSB investigative hearings is that the powers that be seem to be concerned and confused that there is no one shore-side designated to be a “Nautical Expert” to provide advice to the Master. The investigative panel compared this person to the Designated Person Ashore (DPA) as required under the ISM. Even though

the panel and Tote made the comparison to the DPA for a “Nautical Expert” the job description of the DPA is simply a direct line to Executive Management of a company, responsible for reporting pollution or labor issues that cannot be resolved on the field level. Nowhere is there a background or training requirement. So, what would this Nautical Expert’s job description and background look like? For one, we can imagine that this person would have a Master’s license commiserate with the type of vessel being run. For example, it would make more sense for this Nautical Expert to have a 1,600-ton license if they were to be in a tug and barge company, or even an inter-island trading company, but it would not be very wise to have them in a position dealing with VLCC’s or Mega-containerships. That would be reserved for an Unlimited Master. Which leads in to the next qualification. Obviously this expert should have experience in the particular type of vessel operation, whether it is a Roll-On/ Roll-Off vessel, Containers, Tanker, Product Carrier, etc. But would this expert have


Photo Credit: TOTE Maritime


Will new safety regulations emerge from the tragedy?


Marine Log March 2017  
Marine Log March 2017