Families of El Faro victims speak at hearing

In Jacksonville, it was day one of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board’s investigation in to the sinking of the El Faro ship. Thirty-three people are presumed dead. Two of them are from our area in Central Florida.

Tom Roth-Roffy, the Investigator in Charge at the National Transportation Safety Board said, “On behalf of the entire NTSB, I offer our condolences to the family and friends of the 33 crew members who lost their lives as a result of this tragic accident.”

The doomed steam container ship, El Faro, was sailing from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico when it got caught up in Hurricane Joaquin near the Bahamas late last year. Orlando’s German Solar-Cortes and Luis Champa of Palm Coast were on board the ship. Rochelle Hamm’s husband Frank, is also one of those lost

Rochelle Hamm, the wife of Frank Hamm, who is lost at sea said,  “I’ve been praying the whole time. I’m just praying my way through everything.”

The United States Coast Guard Marine Investigation Board, and the NTSB began two weeks of public hearings, seeking answers about the sinking. Philip Morrell,  VP of Tote Services, the company that operates the ship, answered hours of questioning. Coast Guard said the ship was built in 1975.

An investigator on the panel asked Investigator, “In general can you say the two older steam vessels were either more or less reliable than the other vessels that Tote operates?"  Morrell responded,  “They were equally reliable.”

Maritime Attorney, Rod Sullivan, said, “I was incredulous about that. I’ve worked on older ships, and they always require more maintenance and more care than newer ships do. His saying they require an equal amount of care was, I think, an overstatement.”

Meanwhile, Hamm is personally pushing for stronger oversight about ship sailings at sea. “That’s what I’m pushing for," she said, "to make a change to high seas, to help everybody. So, no one has to go through this.”

These hearings are scheduled here until February 25. The investigation is far from over.