TOTE Services executive didn't think "lives were in danger" in call with El Faro captain

by: Lorena Inclan, Action News Jax Updated:

Capt. John Lawrence

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The gravity of the situation El Faro’s crew was facing was underestimated by TOTE Services executive, Capt. John Lawrence, whose role it was to help in an emergency. 

At the time of the sinking, Lawrence was TOTE Services’ manager of safety and operations. He was also the designated person ashore who crews would call with any issues they encountered while underway.

The Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation called Lawrence for more questioning so he could help fill in the gaps in portions of the voyage data recorder transcript.

The VDR transcript has proven to be very helpful, but it only records one side of the conversation and only captures voices heard on the bridge. Lawrence spoke to El Faro’s Capt. Michael Davidson minutes before the recording ended.

On Monday during his testimony, Lawrence said at first he didn’t realize the gravity of the situation in part because he said Davidson voice sounded calm and professional, and so did his second mate Danielle Randolph, whom he could hear in the background. He said it wasn’t until later in the call that he started to understand the seriousness.

The board asked him what he thought Davidson meant when he said, “We’re in survival mode”.

Lawrence’s response disappointed some of the family members in the room who shook their heads in discontent.

“I really didn’t take it to mean their lives were in danger at the time. I felt it meant more the ship itself was disabled at the time, that they just wanted to get things right,” said Lawrence.

Lawrence’s testimony will continue Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the Prime Osborn Convention Center.