SS El Faro Civil Actions Against Tote Still Pending One Year After the Recommendation

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In the saga of the SS El Faro, we are approaching the one-year anniversary on December 21 of the Commandant’s call to action to resolve safety issues that helped send the El Faro to sea.

One big outstanding item: The civil charges recommended against the ship owner. These are six relatively minor items estimated to have a fine of no more than $80,000.

The word is that the Coast Guard attorneys have been reluctant to bring some of the actions because the ship’s log is lost.

Which is something of a cruel riff on justice:

We can’t bring charges against the ship operators for operating the ship unsafely because the unsafe ship and its log sank.

A more aggressive legal team might simply note that the data recordings of the bridge and the testimony of a two-year-long investigation makes the case and serves as a de facto log. That puts the ball in Tote’s court to determine whether to challenge that assertion. 

Would Tote Maritime challenge such a charge?

Yes. Though it makes little sense. The legal team has been devastatingly effective for Tote, but in the court of public opinion, counsel has been often out of control. The company ought to welcome settlement in the circa $80,000 range — about the daily cost of running some ships.
It would be worth that much to put this part of the tragedy into its wake.

But Tote and at times its legal defense team have shown a tin ear at times in the past. Aggressive “court room” tactics that smeared professionals critical of Tote comprised net negatives, as did a bit of bullying of the NTSB.

Moreover, even when the hearings were underway and the sister ship of the El Faro was crawling with senior veteran traveling inspectors, Tote attempted to keep that old rust bucket at sea. The company failed. The El Yunque was scrapped.

Let’s hope for a similar end to resisting the end of this needlessly prolonged part of the drama. Let’s hope someone at the Coast Guard can build the steam to see this through.

And let’s hope someone at Tote understands that they pay a higher cost than $80,000 in reputation, morale and credibility for every day they delay putting this to rest. That brand, public opinion, and street cred within the profession are more important than a cheap legal victory.

The one-year anniversary of the Commandant’s report, coinciding with the holidays, would be a good time to deep six this ugly remnant of the tragedy.

Settle it. Now.

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