The Latest: NTSB blames captain, bad safety culture for loss

By FeaturesAssociated Press

The Latest on the final hearing to determine probable cause in the sinking of the cargo ship El Faro, which killed 33 mariners (all times local):

5 p.m.

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Federal accident investigators have determined the probable cause of the sinking of the cargo ship El Faro that led to the deaths of 33 mariners in 2015. They say it started with the captain's failure to listen to his crew's suggestions to take a safer route, but also included the vessel owner's poor safety culture and a lack of adequate safety equipment.

The National Transportation Safety Board accepted these causal factors at its final meeting, culminating more than two years of investigation into the sinking of the freighter caught in Hurricane Joaquin.

The El Faro sank in 15,000 feet of water after losing engine power and getting flooded by high seas in the Category 3 hurricane.

The board said El Faro Capt. Michael Davidson failed to use the most current weather information available, and waited too long to mobilize the crew. The board also blames vessel owner TOTE Maritime, Inc. for inadequate training to deal with heavy weather, and a lack of modern safety equipment like modern lifeboats.

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2:30 p.m.

The company that owned the cargo ship El Faro had a weak safety culture, a failing that federal accident investigators say contributed to its sinking and the deaths of 33 mariners.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that as a company, TOTE Maritime, Inc., suffered from a lack of "critical" aspects of safety management and training. The board said that was reflected in the fact that the captain and crew were using outdated weather information, and had not adequately trained to deal with flooding and problems from heavy weather.

The El Faro lost engine power in a Category 3 hurricane in 2015 and eventually sank in 15,000 feet (4,570 meters) of water.

NTSB investigator Carrie Bell said ship Capt. Michael Davidson was using outdated weather data as he dismissed multiple requests by his mates to take a slower, safer route from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico.

Bell said the company had identified heavy weather as a risk to the vessel, but "inadequately mitigated risk by failing to provide specific guidance" to the captain and crew.

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11:15 a.m.

Federal investigators probing the deaths of 33 mariners aboard the doomed freighter El Faro say the ship's open lifeboats would not have protected the crew had they been able to launch them. They recommend replacing these old-style lifeboats on any vessel still using them.

This was among dozens of safety measures being recommended Tuesday as the National Transportation Safety Board finishes its investigation into sinking of the El Faro on Oct. 1, 2015. The freighter lost engine power during Hurricane Joaquin, leaving it at the mercy of the Category 3 storm.

The El Faro was legally allowed to carry open-top lifeboats like those used by the Titanic more than a century ago due to safety-rule exemptions for older ships.

The board is also recommending an industry requirement that all crewmembers carry personal locator beacons to better locate them during marine emergencies.

The El Faro had an older emergency position-indicating radio beacon, or EPIRB, which did not transmit global position system coordinates, and that made locating the ship more difficult for search-and-rescue crews.

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9:45 a.m.

The National Transportation Safety Board's chairman says its findings from a more than two-year investigation into the sinking of the freighter El Faro will improve safety for future mariners.

Chairman Robert Sumwalt opened Tuesday's final investigative hearing that will determine probable cause for the Oct. 1, 2015, sinking, which killed all 33 crewmembers.

The El Faro sank after losing propulsion while sailing through a Category 3 hurricane.

Sumwalt said decisions by El Faro Capt. Michael Davidson to sail through the storm were important to the ship's demise, but said "there is more to this accident," including the 40-year-old ship's structural integrity.

The NTSB's investigation included retrieving the vessel's voyage data recorder, or "black box," which contained 26 hours of audio from the bridge and helped investigators understand decisions made by captain and crew in its final hours.

The board is set to deliver 53 safety recommendations.

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8:00 a.m.

Federal accident investigators are set to determine the probable cause of the sinking of the cargo ship El Faro in 2015, the worst maritime disaster for a U.S.-flagged vessel in decades in which 33 mariners were killed.

The National Transportation Safety Board will meet Tuesday to issue more than 50 safety recommendations related to the loss of the 790-foot-long (240-meter) ship on Oct. 1, 2015.

The El Faro sank 34 hours after leaving Jacksonville, Florida, on a cargo run to Puerto Rico. The freighter lost propulsion while sailing through Hurricane Joaquin, coming to rest 15,000-feet (4,570 meters) on the sea floor.

The NTSB says it will address problems with weather forecasting, management of the ship, the suitability of the ship's lifeboats and the oversight of the vessel by its owner, TOTE Maritime, Inc.