NTSB Launching Second Search for El Faro’s VDR

The United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is embarking on a second search for the vessel data recorder (VDR) of the sunken El Faro cargo ship on April 18, 2016.  

The two primary objectives of the mission are to locate the ship’s VDR and to provide  a more extensive and detailed survey of the shipwreck with the aim of using these to help investigators determine exactly why and how the ship sank.

The U.S. flagged El Faro sank during Hurricane Joaquin on Oct. 1, 2015.  All 33 of the El Faro’s crew perished in the accident.

The team of investigators along with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientists and engineers will work from the research vessel Atlantis, which is owned by the US Navy and operated by WHOI.

The ship is scheduled to depart Charleston, South Carolina, April 18, and will search the accident site for 10 days before returning to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, approximately May 5.

Image Courtesy: WHOI
Image Courtesy: WHOI

The search team will use the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Sentry to search for the VDR and map the seafloor around the El Faro, which sank to a depth of approximately 4600 meters (15,000 feet) between Florida and the Bahamas.  The VDR is contained within a watertight container and is roughly the size of a large suitcase.

Sentry is capable of operating in depths of 6,000 meters (~20,000 feet), carries a variety of scientific sensors and uses sidescan and other sonar to create detailed maps of the seafloor.

Image Courtesy: WHOI
Image Courtesy: WHOI

The findings of the second search are to form part of the second round of hearings to be held by the US Coast Guard.

The first round of hearings held in February revealed among other things that El Faro was on the US Coast Guard’s list of vessels to be watched for problems, but the ship sank before this list was released.

According to the coast guard, the ill-fated vessel sank only days before the list was sent to vessel owners TOTE Services.

In addition, USCG investigators have also been looking into any misconduct or mistakes that might have had a role in the ship’s sinking.