Hearings set for Coast Guard’s El Faro investigation


Families await answers as Coast Guard prepares for public hearings

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The U.S. Coast Guard’s investigation into the sinking of Jacksonville-based cargo ship El Faro will take place in a 10-day series of hearings in February, the Coast Guard announced Tuesday.

The public Marine Board of Investigation hearings into the loss of El Faro and its 33 crew members will be 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Feb. 16-26 at the Prime Osborn Convention Center in Jacksonville.

The hearing schedule was announced a day after 10 families of the crew members settled for more than $500,000 each with TOTE Maritime, the company that owned El Faro.

The families in the settlement include those of the captain, the five Polish crew members and four others, including Jacksonville Beach resident Roan Lightfoot. Claims for the remaining 23 crew members, many of whom were from Jacksonville, are still pending, as well as claims from owners of lost cargo.

The attorney for families of the five Polish crew members said their circumstances are different and they needed to settle quickly. He also represents two other victims’ families who have not settled yet.

“Different people are in different circumstances,” Attorney Jason Magulies said. “Ultimately, I think people suffered for a long period of time. I think it was known to the crew that their lives were in jeopardy for approximately seven hours before that ship lost contact, so I think there was a tremendous amount of pain and suffering.”

Pastor Robert Greene said Tuesday that his family is still grieving the loss of his son, LaShawn Rivera, who was one of the 33 who died on Oct. 1 when the El Faro sank off the coast of the Bahamas in Hurricane Joaquin.

“We are still hopefully optimistic that all will be well,” Greene said. “With the investigation, it’s going to be starting in a couple of weeks and some of the other things that are going to come out, we will know more as time goes on.”

The Coast Guard said it will look at factors that contributed to the accident, look for any evidence of misconduct or inattention to duty, look for any negligence or willful violation of the law, and will look to see if any Coast Guard personnel or other government agency contributed to the casualty.

The first hearing session will focus on the pre-accident historical events relating to the loss, El Faro’s regulatory compliance record, crewmember duties and qualifications, past operations of the vessel, and the Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue operations.

A later hearing session, which does not have a set date yet, will examine the accident voyage, including cargo loading, weather conditions and navigation.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which conducted its own investigation, will fully participate in the Marine Board of Investigation hearings.

Greene said his family will wait to learn more about what happened before trying to settle any claims.

He said for now he just wants to help other families in trouble. That is why he and others who lost loved ones set up a GoFundMe account to help find answers and continue the search for his son’s remains.

“We are also setting up with some human services people in the community to help us provide counseling for the families that are still grieving,” Greene said. “It may have gone beyond the resources at this point, and we’re not wanting to be — how should I say — not forced, but lured  into the settlement because they’ve run out of resources.”

by Jim Piggott via news4jax.com