U.S. Coast Guard concludes El Faro public hearings

The U.S. investigation into the deadly sinking of the El Faro cargo ship during a hurricane last year shifted direction on Friday, as the Coast Guard wrapped up its initial public hearings on the accident that killed all 33 people onboard.

The agency will now wait to see if key evidence can be recovered from the shipwreck. 

In April, searchers will make a second attempt at finding a voyage data recorder that could provide detail on the ship’s sinking off the Bahamas.

The recorder, similar to an airplane’s black box, may hold data on the last 12 hours of a voyage that saw the worst cargo shipping disaster involving a U.S.-flagged vessel in more than three decades.

The Coast Guard’s Marine Board of Investigation, convened only for the most serious accidents, for two weeks heard testimony on events leading up to the disaster on October 1.

The panel listened to the captain’s recorded final call for help as his vessel took on water, and his warning that the “clock was ticking.”

Executives of Tote Services, which operated the El Faro, testified that they had paid little or no attention to the worsening storm or to communications from the captain on a weekly route between Florida and Puerto Rico.

They said Captain Michael Davidson was solely responsible for all decisions that ended in disaster.

Jason Itkin, a Houston lawyer who is suing Tote on behalf of four crewmembers’ families and has followed the hearings, said on Friday that their statements seemed tailored to limit the company’s liability.

The Coast Guard plans a second round of hearings to focus on greater detail on the accident. No date has been announced for the hearings. 

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