Investigators Recover El Faro’s Black Box

By Robbie Whelan 
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After a 10-month effort, federal investigators have recovered the black box of the cargo ship El Faro, which sank Oct. 1 in Hurricane Joaquin off the coast of the Bahamas, killing all 33 crew members in the worst maritime disaster involving a U.S. ship in decades.

The black box, about the size of a football, is believed to contain data about El Faro’s sailing route and audio recordings of conversations between the captain and other ship’s officers on the bridge. El Faro was transporting cars and containers with consumer goods from Jacksonville, Fla. to San Juan, Puerto Rico, when it was lost in the storm.

Its wreckage was located by National Transportation Safety Board investigators, working in concert with the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, on Oct. 31, but the black box, officially known as the ship’s voyage data recorder, wasn’t in its usual place, attached to the ship’s bridge. The search for it was called off in November.

At the urging of the committee that oversees the NTSB, led by Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), a new search for the black box was announced in April. Investigators located the device under 15,000 feet of water near Crooked Island in the Bahamas on April 26, and launched a mission in July to recover it using undersea robots.

“The recovery of the recorder has the potential to give our investigators greater insight into the incredible challenges that the El Faro crew faced,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart, in a statement. “It’s just one component of a very complex investigation. There is still a great deal of work to be done in order to understand how the many factors converged that led to the sinking and the tragic loss of 33 lives.”

The NTSB plans to issue a report on its findings of the cause of the vessel’s sinking, although such reports can take as long as a year and a half to complete. Dozens of the families of El Faro’s crew have reached settlements with the vessel’s operator, TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico.

Write to Robbie Whelan at robbie.whelan[a]

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