Company: El Faro Skipper Had Plan to Deal With Storm

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 10/7/2015, 9:58 a.m.
The owners of a cargo ship presumed to have sunk insist that the captain of El Faro had a "sound ...
Life ring recovered from the missing El Faro cargo ship. Ring recovered on Saturday.

By Mariano Castillo

CNN

(CNN) -- The owners of a cargo ship presumed to have sunk insist that the captain of El Faro had a "sound plan" to avoid Hurricane Joaquin, but that the ship's main propulsion failed, stranding the crew in the path of the storm.

The unidentified captain had real-time weather information when he left the port in Jacksonville and reported favorable conditions at the outset, Tote Services President Phil Greene told reporters.

Given the weather system, the captain's "plan was a sound plan that would have enabled him to clearly pass around the storm with a margin of comfort that was adequate in his professional opinion," Greene said on Monday night.

Still, the question that came up over and over again at the news conference at which Tote Incorporated President and CEO Anthony Chiarello, Tote Maritime Puerto Rico President Tim Nolan and Greene attended was a version of this: Knowing that a potential hurricane was brewing, why was El Faro allowed to go ahead with its scheduled route?

The U.S. Coast Guard has concluded that the ship, which was carrying 28 Americans and five Polish nationals, sank last week. It was headed from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, when it disappeared near the Bahamas.

The trio of managers said they put their trust in the company's captains to be the decision-makers, and that up until El Faro lost its propulsion, the reports were not alarming.

"When the ship sailed on Tuesday evening, the storm was nowhere near what it was at the time that the vessel became disabled," Chiarello said.

The captain sent an email to headquarters last Wednesday morning saying he was aware of the "weather condition" -- the increasingly powerful Hurricane Joaquin -- and that he was monitoring it's track, though conditions where the ship was "looked very favorable," Greene said.

The concern that the captain had about the weather was about the return trip from Puerto Rico to Florida, he said.

But the next day, El Faro lost propulsion right in the path of the hurricane, Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor told CNN's "New Day."

"They were disabled right by the eye of Hurricane Joaquin," Fedor said Tuesday. "If they were able to abandon ship and put on their survival suits, they would have been abandoning ship into that Category 4 hurricane. So you're talking about 140-mile-an-hour winds, 50-foot seas, zero visibility. It's a very dire situation, a very challenging situation even for the most experienced mariner."

What happened to ship's propulsion?

The captain informed his company that El Faro was disabled, but the cause remains unclear.

"The captain did not explain in his communication why he had lost propulsion," Greene said. "He indicated that he had had a navigational incident."

The captain had said the ship was listing, or leaning, 15 degrees, but it was unclear whether that was due to the wind or environmental conditions, and what impact this may have had on the propulsion system.