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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. The captain of the El Faro made a fatal error by believing the massive ship and experienced crew could handle the oncoming storm named Joaquin, which was drifting near the Bahama. 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 it became clear that the storm was getting worse, the El Faro never changed its course. In fact, the El Faro seems to have ignored repeated warnings from the National Hurricane Center regarding the dangers of Hurricane Joaquin. Even more baffling is the fact that tracking data reveals that not only did the El Faro ignore the warnings, but it steered almost directly into the eye of the storm.

On Monday, October 5, 2015, families of the ship's passengers waited at the ship's homeport of Jacksonville to hear news of the ship's fate. Sadly, the U.S Coast Guard confirmed their worst fears: the ship that had gone missing on 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 discovered 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. 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.