BANGOR, Maine — The U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday will begin a public Marine Board of Investigation hearing on the loss of the cargo ship El Faro, which sank in the Atlantic during a hurricane in 2015.
The loss of El Faro and its 33 crew members near the Bahamas has been deemed the worst cargo shipping disaster involving a U.S.-flagged vessel since 1983. Five of the crew, including the captain, had connections to Maine.
Set for the Prime F. Osborn Convention Center in Jacksonville, Florida, the first session of the hearing is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and continue daily through Friday, Feb. 26, the Coast Guard said in a news release. The exception is Sunday, Feb. 21, when no sessions are scheduled.
The hearing will be streamed live on the Bangor Daily News website and can be seen on the Coast Guard’s website.
It will focus on the events preceding the sinking, El Faro’s regulatory compliance record, crew member duties and qualifications, past operations of the vessel and the Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue operations.
The investigation will determine as closely as possible:
— The factors that contributed to the accident.
— Whether there is evidence that any act of misconduct, inattention to duty, negligence or willful violation of the law on the part of any licensed or certificated person contributed to the casualty.
— Whether there is evidence that any Coast Guard personnel or any representative or employee of any other government agency or any other person caused or contributed to the ship’s sinking.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which conducted its own investigation, will fully participate in the Marine Board of Investigation hearing.
A later session, which has yet to be scheduled, will explore the accident voyage, including cargo loading, weather conditions and navigation, the Coast Guard said.
Last week, the NTSB announced that it would launch a second expedition to search for evidence in its investigation into the El Faro tragedy.
The NTSB contracted with the U.S. Navy to find El Faro, which disappeared on Oct. 1, 2015, during Hurricane Joaquin after the captain reported losing propulsion and taking on water while on a regular weekly cargo route between Florida and Puerto Rico.
The last communication between the ship and the mainland was made at 7:20 a.m., according to previously published reports. The cargo carrier lost propulsion and was listing after encountering the hurricane north of San Salvador Island in the Bahamas, the captain said in his request for help.
The crew included 28 Americans and five Poles. Among crew members lost were 53-year-old Capt. Michael Davidson of Windham, a 1988 graduate of Maine Maritime Academy; Michael Holland, 25, of Wilton, a 2012 graduate of Maine Maritime; Danielle Randolph, 34, of Rockland, a 2004 graduate of Maine Maritime; and Dylan Meklin, 23, a 2010 graduate of Rockland District High School and a 2015 graduate of Maine Maritime. Another crew member, Mitchell Kuflik of Brooklyn, New York, graduated from Maine Maritime in 2011.
A key objective of the upcoming mission, which is expected to begin in April and last about two weeks, is to locate the voyage data recorder and to provide investigators with a more extensive and detailed survey of the shipwreck. The exact launch date will be announced later.
The 790-foot ship was located in about 15,000 feet of water near the Bahamas on Oct. 31. Over the next few weeks, the ship and the debris field were documented with a video camera mounted on a remotely operated vehicle.
Video revealed that the navigation bridge structure and the deck below it had separated from the ship. The missing structure included the mast and its base, where the voyage data recorder was mounted. Neither the mast nor the voyage data recorder was found in the vicinity of the navigation bridge structure. The initial search mission was completed on Nov. 15.
After reviewing the data and video from the initial search, investigators shared findings with NTSB senior leadership, who determined that a return mission to El Faro was warranted.
A search area of about 13½ square miles will be photo- and video-documented by Sentry, an autonomous underwater vehicle that will be launched from the research vessel Atlantis, which is owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Sentry can work at depths of nearly 20,000 feet and can be equipped with a wide array of sonar, camera and other sensors.
A voyage data recorder of the type that was mounted on El Faro is capable of recording conversations and sounds on the navigation bridge, which could provide investigators with important evidence as they seek to understand the sequence of events that led to the sinking.
In addition, investigators hope to obtain high-quality images of the bridge, debris field and hull.
If the voyage data recorder is located, another mission using a remotely operated vehicle capable of recovering the recorder will be initiated.