El Faro-Lives and Cargo Unnecessarily Lost, Pt. 1

By now, news of the El Faro sinking is widespread, and has been touted as one of the worst cargo-ship accidents off the U.S. coast in decades. It has resulted in the loss of at least 33 lives and an estimated millions of dollars of cargo. When the cargo ship El Faro left Jacksonville, Florida for its regular run to Puerto Rico, its captain mistakenly believed that a tropical storm named Joaquin drifting near the Bahamas was nothing that the rugged 790-foot vessel and its experienced crew couldn’t handle. It has been reported that the 33 member crew included 28 Americans (most of whom were Florida residents) and five Polish people.

It makes little sense that the vessel set sail despite the storms’ projected path. But what is even more shocking about this tragedy is that, even though the storm strengthened and forecast changed as soon as the massive ship set sail, El Faro’s course—the shortest, straightest shot across the Atlantic to offload containers—never did. In fact, despite increasingly ominous warnings about Hurricane Joaquin from the National Hurricane Center, tracking data shows that the El Faro steered almost directly into the strengthening eye of a major hurricane.

Map of the course of the El Faro

On Monday, October 5, 2015, the U.S Coast Guard confirmed the worst fears of families awaiting word in the ship’s homeport of Jacksonville—the massive ship, missing since a last communication Thursday, had sunk. The massive search in the Caribbean Sea has yielded a 225-square-mile debris field, but no ship and no survivors. One corpse was found on Sunday night, October 4, 2015, as well as an empty and badly damaged 43-seat lifeboat. There were unidentifiable human remains inside a “survival suit,” which helps crew members float and avoid hypothermia. Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Jacksonville on Tuesday, October 6, 2015.

Assuming that the propulsion system did fail, this certainly brings up serious questions about the seaworthiness of the vessel. There are also questions about whether the captain, with the carrier and vessel owner’s knowledge and approval, violated any standards or duties owed to the crew to navigate the vessel in a reasonably safe manner. It appears at the onset that there are numerous viable unseaworthiness, personal injury (Jones Act and general maritime), and/or wrongful death claims (such as Death on the High Seas Act and others) available to the victims of this disaster and/or their families.

As to the commercial aspect of the disaster, an estimated millions of dollars of cargo was lost in the accident, leaving various shippers, consignees, and manufacturers facing the need to file numerous cargo claims.

Ultimately, El Faro’s owner and operator, Tote Maritime Puerto Rico, will have many people to answer to, and need to start to try to make things right—although the loss of life can never be fully compensated.

If you, your family, and/or your business(es) have been directly affected by this tragedy, you will need a dedicated and knowledgeable legal team to review the facts, determine whether you have a viable claim, and fight for you against these large corporations. The attorneys at Cassidy & Black, P.A. have more than 50 years of combined experience in admiralty and maritime claims, and helping clients obtain the compensation they deserve. Both partners—Michael Black and William Cassidy—are Board Certified Admiralty and Maritime Lawyers by the Florida Bar. We are willing to help, and are available by phone at (305) 964-8792. Please contact us today for your free consultation.

Visit our blog tomorrow to read part two of our series on the El Faro sinking.

Categories: In the News