Underestimating Hurricanes

Published on October 5th, 2015

The book, ‘Rescue of the Bounty‘, detailed the disaster of the 120-foot HMS Bounty which sank in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy. It provided an unnerving account of a captain taking his ship into the path of the storm, and the heroism of the US Coast Guard to save nearly all of the crew.

It appears that Hurricane Joaquin has tested yet another captain.

US Coast Guard crews continue searching for possible survivors from the 790-foot cargo ship El Faro Monday (October 5), which is believed to have sunk last week during Hurricane Joaquin.

While searching in the vicinity of the ship’s last known position 35 nautical miles northeast of Crooked Islands, Bahamas, the Coast Guard located a deceased person in a survival suit in the water. The ship was carrying a crew of 28 Americans and five Polish nationals when it went missing.

A heavily damaged life boat with markings consistent with those on board the El Faro was also located. Additional items located include a partially submerged life raft, life jackets, life rings, cargo containers and an oil sheen were located by Coast Guard aircrews within a 225 square nautical mile search area.

The El Faro was likely swallowed by the Category 4 hurricane two days after it left Jacksonville, Florida for San Juan, Puerto Rico. When it set off on Tuesday, Sept. 29, Joaquin was just a tropical storm with wave swells of 7.5 feet and sustained winds of 65 mph.

Four hours earlier, the National Hurricane Center had issued an advisory, warning that the storm was moving toward the Bahamas and could reach hurricane status by Sept. 30.

An hour and a half after the ship left port, a new forecast put Joaquin even closer to the Bahamas and, fatefully, closer to the El Faro’s route. By the time the ship, built in 1975, passed the Bahamas the afternoon of Sept. 30, winds were at 85 mph.

Based on communications, it appears the captain believed more in his ship than then the potential force of the storm.

“On Wednesday he sent a message to the home office with the status of the developing tropical storm he said he had very good weather … and that his crew was prepared,” said Phil Greene, president of TOTE Services, the parent company of the ship’s owner.

As night fell, Joaquin grew. Tropical storm winds had expanded some 140 miles from the center and hurricane force winds were sweeping out 35 miles, packing the punch of the Category 4 hurricane.

el-faro map

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