The third and final round of hearings into the sinking of El Faro kicked off Monday in Jacksonville. During this round, investigators were equipped with the transcripts from the voyage data recorder or black box.
The transcript, which is over 500 pages long, is proving to be beneficial for the Marine Board of Investigation as it analyzes what questions to ask at the hearing.
Monday’s hearing at the Prime Osborn Convention Center in Jacksonville started off with testimony from former El Faro captain and chief mate Raymond Thompson.
It’s been more than a year since the tragedy, and pastor Robert Green, who lost his son on board, said he is glad the board can now use the transcript’s information. “If we didn’t have it, we’d be shooting in the dark,” Green said.
During the beginning of the hearing, the board zeroed in on whether fatigue might have been a factor in how El Faro and its crew operated. A portion of black box transcript shows Capt. Michael Davidson was awakened in the middle of the night.
Board member and Cmdr. Matt Denning wanted to know if that affected his decision-making. “It makes me question whether the captain actually woke up sufficiently to have that conversation,” Denning said.
Thompson said that while working with Davidson, he personally never had to wake him up at night.
“If you’re woken up, does it take you a while before you can really comprehend what’s going on?” Denning said.
“No sir, not really, I can get up pretty quickly,” Thompson said.
Thompson said as captain it wasn’t uncommon for his crew to wake him up. He said he’s been awoken “plenty of times” but was unsure as to how the ship owners verified that crew was adhering to work and rest hours.
“I didn’t see fatigue as being an issue,” said Thompson. Since the sinking, Thompson said they now track rest hours through software instead of using written forms.
The transcripts also show the second mate didn’t get much sleep and used an over-the-counter sleeping aid.
Thompson said he would only know about the use of medications if crew members reported it, but that he follows a Coast Guard manuel that shows what substances are not allowed.
William Bennett, who represents Davidson’s widow, asked a series of questions to illustrate the kind of captain Davidson was.
Bennett pointed out that the transcripts showed Davidson was on the bridge at least once an hour for about 10 hours, asking his mates to log the weather frequently. “It goes along with his reputation of being meticulous and cautious, doesn’t it?” said Bennett.
“That would be correct,” Thompson said in response to Bennett.
Bennett also said that one of the slides shown was misleading because it showed Hurricane Joaquin’s actual course, not the forecasted course.
“Based upon the forecast, the ship was not supposed to experience hurricane force winds, correct?” Bennett asked during the hearing.
“That looks to be correct,” Thompson responded.
Bennett said the black box only records conversations that occur on the bridge but it is likely that conversations about the weather and course, occurred in other places, such as during meals.
“The point is that we can’t put ourselves in Captain Davidson’s position ‘cause we were not there,” said Bennett.
“That’s correct,” said Thompson.
The hearing reconvenes at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
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