The El Faro sinking is reminding me a lot of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The last message from the ship came Thursday morning, when the
captain reported the El Faro was listing slightly at 15 degrees in
strong winds and heavy seas. Some water had entered through a hatch that
The captain, who has 20 years' experience on cargo ships, calmly told company officials the crew was removing the water.
The Coast Guard was unable to fly into the ship's last known position until Sunday, because of the fierce hurricane winds.
Steven Werse, a ship captain with 31 years' experience on the seas,
said merchant vessels have access to up-to-date weather forecasting and
technology that allow them to avoid most storms.
If the El Faro had not lost engine power, he added, it would probably
still have been powerful enough to make it through Joaquin.
Without power, it was a sitting duck.
"The ship really is at the mercy of the sea. You have no means of
maneuvering the ship. You would be rolling with the seas," said Werse,
secretary-treasurer of the Master Mates and Pilots Union in Linthicum
Heights, Maryland. The union has no connection to the El Faro or its
While the Fitz was nowhere near old as far as lake freighters go, like the El Faro, she had an experienced captain and crew, ran into an autumn storm of unexpected intensity, suffered damage that led to a noticeable list, and may have shared the same cause of the list--hatch covers.
The Fitzgerald didn't lose propulsion, however--which is what certainly doomed the ocean-going vessel. With power, a large ship can batter her way through a hurricane. Without it, she will quickly get caught in the trough of the massive waves and eventually roll over--especially given a list, and the kind of vessel she was, a container ship.
Prayers for the crew and their families and friends.