Denied Coast Guard List of 53 “High Risk” Ships, Project Lighthouse (El Faro), Launches Its Own “Ship of Interest List” for Public Use

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Denied a key list of 53 ships tagged as “high risk” by Coast Guard inspectors, Project Lighthouse (El Faro) is launching its own “Ship of Interest List” based on Coast Guard safety data and weightings.

The Coast Guard decision on a Freedom of Information request will be appealed by Project Lighthouse (El Faro), a project of this blog.

“The Coast Guard in recent months has established an admirable thoroughness in ship safety inspections, but it needs to disclose the names of these ships so that the public and mariners alike understand the risks these ships pose,” the Lighthouse Project appeal document states.

“Withholding vital information for huge ‘high risk’ ships that travel our waterways and enter our ports is not in line with Coast Guard traditions of integrity and transparency,” the appeal continues. “There are 53 high risk ships out there, and the public and maritime officers and crew have a right to know which ships fall into this category.”

The “high risk” list was disclosed by senior officers during congressional hearings in March.

The Coast Guard denied the FOIA request, it said, so its inspectors can remain effective and continue a crackdown on American flag vessels that are often very old and in rust bucket condition. The Marine Board of Investigation into the loss of the El Faro recommended a renewed focus on inspections by the Coast Guard and the private inspection agency, the American Bureau of Shipping.

To help maintain this effectiveness, the Coast Guard says the information requested must remain protected because it consists of internal decision making processes. Disclosing it would interfere with inspectors’ ability to make fair and informed decisions.

The rejection of the information request comes at a time when the condition of the American merchant marine is seen as a national security threat, with old, unsafe vessels often unable to meet cargo-carrying requirements for the US Military Sealift Command and other military and maritime agencies.

Fewer than 90 vessels are said to be in the “Jones Act” fleet — American-built, American-registered ships with American crews. If there still are 53 ships on the “high risk” list, this means that nearly 60 percent of the total fleet has serious problems that bear watching.

If the appeal is successful, Project Lighthouse will publish the names of the vessels.

In the meantime, Project Lighthouse will publish available data assessed and weighted based on Coast Guard data on casualties, inspections, injuries and spills.

The Ships of Interest List does not translate necessarily into the Coast Guard’s “high risk” ships because factors classifying vessels thusly are not public record.

However, the SIL does seek to replicate a system used by the Coast Guard to prioritize ship boarding priorities.

A similar system tagged the SS El Faro as one of the top ten ships badly in need of inspection and boarding. Tragically, the ship made the list the same month she sank with 33 crew and officers on board.

The crew members and officers believed the vessel fit for rough seas — even though the Coast Guard later concluded inspectors had missed important flaws in the ships condition and design.

Here are the rankings of the Ships of Interest List. They are determined by weighted scores of ship inspections, casualties, injuries, pollution incidents and age — all factors known to be used by the Coast Guard in identifying inspection boarding priorities.

The study draws on Coast Guard Misle data for 2017 and 2018. More recent data is not available or included here. The Matsonia, a sister ship of the El Faro, suffered a hull fracture in 2019, for example, but that data is not included here.

Mariners following the Matsonia also have said that the vessel cannot be compared to the El Faro because the Matsonia is meticulously maintained and sails mostly in quiet Pacific waters.

Nevertheless, her age, number of casualties, injuries and inspections places the old ship in the top position.

Matsonia 119
Cape Horn110
Str Wilfred Sykes93
Cape Hudson93
Horizon Spirit89
Chemical Pioneer71
RJ Peiffer61
Matson Consumer59
Horizon Reliance 59
Walter McCarthy Jr59
Sulphur Enterprise58
Horizon Enterprixe57
Texas Enterpise54
Cape Henry51
Golden Bear48
Natinal Glory48
Matson Tacoma48
Global Sentinel44
Florida Voyager`42
Matson Anchorage40
Green Lake39
Cape Vincent36
Green Ridge27

Project Lighthouse (El Faro) data on passenger ships, dive boats, ferries and other vessels is available here.

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