JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Sunday marks exactly two years since the sinking of El Faro.
It also marks the beginning of what many believe will bring real change to the maritime industry as the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation released its findings into what led to the sinking.
Families marked the solemn anniversary by visiting the El Faro at Dames Point Park, many leaving flowers and gifts at the plaques bearing their loved one's name.
For many, it’s the only place of mourning as the bodies of the 33 crew members were never recovered.
Marlena Porter lost her husband, James Porter Jr.
“It should've never happened, they should've never went out,” Porter said.
Sunday, the MBI released a 199-page report of the investigation, detailing the factors that led to the sinking, starting with Capt. Michael Davidson, El Faro’s master.
Capt. Jason Neubauer spoke about the causal factors and the MBI’s recommendations Sunday at a news conference.
“The master misjudged the path of Hurricane Joaquin and overestimated the vessel's heavy weather survivability, while also failing to take adequate precautions to monitor and prepare for heavy weather,” Neubauer said.
All 33 families, including those of the Polish riding crew, received a private briefing Saturday before to the public release.
The attorney for Davidson’s widow, Bill Bennett, sent Action News Jax this statement:
“First and foremost, on behalf of the Davidson family, we again extend our condolences to the families of those that were lost on the El Faro. We also take this opportunity to thank the United States Coast Guard, in particular, Capt. Jason Neubauer and his team of investigators, for their hard work and commitment in investigating the causes of the loss of the El Faro.
We have only had a brief opportunity to review the Coast Guard's report, however, based on this preliminary review, we believe there are serious omissions of critical facts and faulty analysis. Although he was the Captain of the El Faro and thus responsible for the safety of the vessel there are many other key factors that primarily caused the sinking of the vessel and thus we do not agree with all aspects of the USCG report."
Neubauer, who led the three two-week hearings in Jacksonville probing the sinking, said the master was not the only one at fault.
“The MBI determined that TOTE failed to identify heavy weather as a threat to their vessels and they failed to comply with important work rest and regulatory reporting requirements,” said Neubauer.
TOTE issued the following statement:
"The El Faro and its crew were lost on our watch and for this we will be eternally sorry. Nothing we can do will bring back the remarkable crew, but everything we do can work to ensure that those who go to sea, serving us all, are in ever safer environments. The report, which we and so many others, whom we would like to thank, worked relentlessly on, is another piece of this sacred obligation that everyone who works upon the sea must study and embrace. The report details industry practices which need change. We are committed to working with every stakeholder on these comments and recommendations. We remain focused as we have from the start, on caring for the families of those we lost and working daily ashore and at sea to safeguard the lives of all mariners."
The American Bureau of Shipping and the Coast Guard itself also bare some of the blame, the report said.
“The MBI found that the Coast Guard's oversight over ABS's performance was lacking and ineffective in addressing deteriorated material condition aboard the El Yunque and concluded the conditions on board El Faro were likely similar,” said Neubauer.
ABS issued the following statement:
“ABS received the U.S. Coast Guard MBI report and currently is reviewing same. ABS is dedicated to its mission of protecting life, property, and the environment and is committed to working with the Coast Guard and the U.S. shipping industry in improving safety standards and applying lessons learned. We meet regularly with the US Coast Guard (USCG) to review the Alternative Compliance Program (ACP) with the goal of sharing information and continuously improving the program. ABS remains saddened at the loss of the El Faro and its crew and will continue working with the USCG and the marine industry in an effort to prevent such a catastrophic event from happening again.”
A second memorial also stands at the seafarer’s union hall, which has become a home away from home for many families. It’s also where a private memorial was held Sunday to mark the two-year anniversary and to remember the lives lost.
Pastor Robert Green, who lost his son, LaShawn Rivera, attended the memorial.
“The men and women of the El Faro, they were standing their last watch; now it's our turn to stand watch,” Green said.
In all the MBI issued 39 recommendations, 31 of those safety recommendations to prevent future casualties; four recommending civil violations against TOTE; and another four administrative recommendations to enhance post-accident procedures.
Neubauer said the total cost of penalties recommended against TOTE was “in the neighborhood of $80,000.”
In the end, all family members like Porter want is that their loved one's death wasn’t in vain.
“I feel like change will be made and it's up to us to get it done,” said Porter.
The commandant of the Coast Guard still has to sign off on the recommendations before they become final. Families and parties involved will have 30 days to offer any comments on the report for consideration by the commandant. At least three families have told Action News Jax they plan to offer comments.
The National Transportation Safety Board also will release its own separate findings and issue recommendations Dec. 12 during a public meeting in Washington, D.C.
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