|Ship (not a container ship) in rough seas, Wikimedia Commons|
Yet the captain kept heading into the heart of the storm. When the engines failed, the ship sank. As of this writing, no living crew member has been spotted and only one body was found, which was left where it was so as not to delay the search for survivors. Thirty-three people have most certainly died.
I searched the major news media outlets looking for answers, but the news was (as it too often is these days) repetitive and unhelpful, largely an uncritical quoting of press releases, and then I found a forum of merchant seamen at http://www.gcaptain.com/forum/ and a few similar sites and read their comments with growing interest. Some had worked on that ship, others on identical vessels for that company. One had loaded the ship. They were more helpful by far than the news media in helping me understand what might have happened and how it might have felt to be there.
These people posed interesting questions and helped me understand why you might lose a boiler in those seas, why you couldn't get it restarted even if the equipment was in good order, and how difficult it might be to deploy a life raft with physical conditions as they were, and otherwise made possible scenarios come alive in my head. They referred to both the company's interests and any captain's need to consider financial/employment issues in ways that made my heart sink. Could it be that captains are directed into dangerous seas for purely financial reasons or feel they can't say "no" lest they be blackballed from working ever again?
Ye gods, I hope not. It was a hurricane, for pity's sake, not a minor gale or tropical depression. And if they were directed into it, you'd think the lawsuits alone would erase any profit made from a hundred such successful voyages. So this seems unlikely. Nor is it possible it's like one of those murder/suicide deals with airline pilots smashing planes into mountainsides. Too many people had to cooperate with the captain for that to be the explanation.
In an aside, I found that those working on these ships are quite critical about the Coast Guard, which surprised me, as the posters must potentially rely on the Coast Guard to save their lives. They did not say that anyone could have been saved in this case, however, with any other approach than that the USCG took. Probably by the time it was safe enough to fly in and look for survivors, all hands were lost.
There will be an investigation of the sinking of the El Faro. Still, it could be a year or two before there's a report issued on the findings. And the answers might not be as disinterested as we would hope. All sorts of pressures, including political and economic ones, are brought to bear in such an investigation.
My heart goes out to those families, and to the seamen themselves. You read those expert discussions, and you start to imagine those last moments, perhaps not being to get off the ship at all, the list, the roll, the containers breaking loose... or gaining the water in your survival suit and yet drowning in the spray and crashing waves, or being battered to death by debris...and it's impossible not to get a lump in your throat.
RIP, crew of the El Faro.
For more, go to youtube and type in "container ship high seas" and get a small taste of what the start of the experience may have been. For further reading about an important disaster at sea, try Robert Frump's Until the Sea Shall Free Them.