Coast Guard HQ Lags in Pursuing Civil Penalties in El Faro Case Despite JAX Sector Push

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Ten months after the Commandant of the Coast Guard urged a “call to action … with a sense of urgency,” one year after the Coast Marine Board of Investigation alleged civil violations by the ship owner, and three years after 33 men and women sailed to their deaths in the loss of the SS El Faro, Coast Guard Headquarters has not proceeded with civil penalties sought by its Jacksonville command against Tote Maritime, the corporate operator of the lost ship.

The lag and unexplained delay occurs as the families of the El Faro crew members mark the three-year anniversary of the sinking on October 1.

In August, the Coast Guard command in Jacksonville sector confirmed that civil penalties had been recommended to Washington Headquarters and they expected action against Tote “in the very near future.”

However, the legal review has not progressed to a final stage and no approximate release date has been given.

“There is no update yet on the civil actions against Tote,” Lt. Amy Midgett, Headquarters Media Relations, said last week. “The recommended charges are still under final review.”

Tote has declined comment on the Jacksonville actions.

The SS El Faro sank on October 1, 2015 as her course intersected Hurricane Joaquin.  The Coast Guard ruled that the captain of the ship ought not to have steered near the storm.  The board and the Commandant also faulted Tote.

“Most relevant to this casualty…was the company’s failure to provide the necessary shore side support for the master to perform his duties safely,” said Commandant Paul Zukunft in his review of the tragedy.

The civil penalties proposed against TOTE deal with these alleged infractions:

  • Tote violated rest hours for deck officers in a systemic manner, specifically for Second Mate Danielle Randolph, the Marine Board found.
  • Moreover, TOTE did not adequately give safety training to  a “riding crew” of Polish nationals on board to convert the ship for Alaska use.
  • The company also failed to report to the Coast Guard repairs to lifesaving equipment as required by law and did not report to the Coast Guard repairs to the ship’s main boiler

More than five weeks ago, Coast Guard officials in Jacksonville said they had recommended the penalties and “expect the details will be made public in the very near future.”

The reason the case is tied up in legal review has not been detailed. Nor is there a suggested time frame for the actions  as the third anniversary of the tragedy occurs on October 1st.

The lag would seem to run counter to Admiral Adm. Paul Zukunft’s call for action in his “Final Action” report on the El Faro’s Marine Board of Investigation final report.

“This is a call to action for the entire maritime community,” he continues.  “Tote, ABS, and the Coast Guard must learn and move with a sense of urgency. This tragic story points to the need for a strong and enduring commitment at all elements of the safety framework.”




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