Worst U.S. Maritime Disaster in Decades
Published on April 9th, 2018
The Atlantic hurricane season annually attracts our attention as we have great compassion for those living within the path of these storms, and great confusion by those that confront them.
In 2012, it was the 180-foot HMS Bounty which sank off the coast of North Carolina during Hurricane Sandy. Three of the 16 people on board were seriously injured, one crewmember died, and the captain was never found. If not for the US Coast Guard, all may have perished.
But three years later, with forecasting tools tracking a significant storm, an even more confounding accident occurred. This report details the worst U.S. maritime disaster in decades.
In the darkness before dawn on Thursday, October 1, 2015, an American merchant captain named Michael Davidson sailed a 790-foot U.S.-flagged cargo ship, El Faro, into the eye wall of a Category 3 hurricane on the exposed windward side of the Bahama Islands.
El Faro means “the lighthouse” in Spanish. The hurricane, named Joaquin, was one of the heaviest ever to hit the Bahamas. It overwhelmed and sank the ship. Davidson and the 32 others aboard drowned.
They had been headed from Jacksonville, Florida, on a weekly run to San Juan, Puerto Rico, carrying 391 containers and 294 trailers and cars. The ship was 430 miles southeast of Miami in deep water when it went down.
Davidson was 53 and known as a stickler for safety. He came from Windham, Maine, and left behind a wife and two college-age daughters. Neither his remains nor those of his shipmates were ever recovered.
Disasters at sea do not get the public attention that aviation accidents do, in part because the sea swallows the evidence. It has been reported that a major merchant ship goes down somewhere in the world every two or three days; most are ships sailing under flags of convenience, with underpaid crews and poor safety records.
The El Faro tragedy attracted immediate attention for several reasons. El Faro was a U.S.-flagged ship with a respected captain—and it should have been able to avoid the hurricane. Why didn’t it? Add to that mystery this simple fact: the sinking of El Faro was the worst U.S. maritime disaster in three decades. – Full report.