As a formal naval officer who was an officer of the deck underway, a navigator, a meteorology officer and on-track for ship command, I am appalled by the decision of the captain of the El Faro container ship to head into a ferocious storm at sea (“Memorial service to be held for crew member aboard El Faro,” Web, Oct. 13).
The captain departed Jacksonville, Florida, on Sept. 29, 2015, on a southeasterly course for San Juan, Puerto Rico. This course took the ship on a track near the Bahama islands and straight into a storm. At the time of sailing the storm was designated a tropical storm with winds of around 45 knots or 50 knots and seas running about 20 feet to 25 feet. Soon after the ship left port the storm intensified to hurricane strength and the National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning, which the El Faro should have received. It forecast winds of 125 knots and seas of 40 feet to 50 feet.
Apparently the ship lost propulsion, which I assume occurred within the hurricane due to the pounding on the vessel and likely flooding. The ship would then have been in the trough of the waves, and with a top-heavy load of containers, it could have rolled over and sunk.
The shipping company had a responsibility to ensure that the ship’s captain was aware of the potential danger. If the company provided any coercion or threatened the captain in the event he refused to go to sea, the owners of the shipping company could have criminal liability for the sinking of the ship. In any case, the captain, who was hired by the shipping company, and the owners of the vessel, are responsible for the safety of the ship and crew.
DONALD A. MOSKOWITZ