JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Tuesday set the stage for the first glimpse into what recommendations we can expect coming out of the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation hearings into El Faro.
Tuesday’s first witness was Jaideep Sirkar, who is the chief of the U.S. Coast Guard Naval Architect Division and has been working as a civilian with the Coast Guard for 26 years, previously working in the private sector for ship design and stability work.
His testimony so far dealt with international regulations that were developed to ensure that cargo vessels are loaded in a safe manner.
The board is working to get more insight into how these regulations were applied in the case of El Faro and if anything should be changed going forward.
Monday’s testimony showed that El Faro may have started to partially capsize before righting and ultimately sinking.
Sirkar did not answer many of the questions relating specifically to El Faro, saying he did not want to speculate. But he did answer some direct questions from the board.
“According to the best information the board has at this point, El Faro had a keel laid date on or about 1974. Should she have been considered a new ship per the 1966 International Load Line Convention?” asked Cmdr. Mike Venturella.
“Yes. That is my understanding,” said Sirkar.
The board asked Sirkar many questions about stability standards for the loading of cargo vessels such as El Faro and how they’ve developed over time.
It was during his questioning that Eric Stolzenberg, of the National Transportation Safety Board, hinted at potential changes for the maritime industry.
“What I’m trying to decide is what standards might be available for future vessels,” said Stolzenberg.
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The NTSB will develop its own findings independent of the Coast Guard once the hearings wrap up.
Sirkar also gave insight on how some changes are already underway in the maritime industry.
“In my opinion, there are other initiatives underway with more sophisticated modes of calculating or methods of calculating intact stability in dynamic conditions,” said Sirkar. “With other modes of failure or other vulnerabilities that have in my professional opinion greater potential for examining existing safety levels using current stability standards.”
Stolzenberg also questioned whether certain openings on board the vessel should have been shut while at sea.
“What I’m struggling to understand is whether there was a hole between what was intended and what happened and how we might patch that hole going forward, if it indeed exists,” said Stolzenberg.
The hearing continues Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the Prime Osborn Convention Center.
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