The captain of the doomed El Faro cargo ship told one of the last people to see the crew alive that he planned to “shoot under” the brewing Hurricane Joaquin.
In a second round of hearings beginning this week in Jacksonville, the U.S. Coast Guard is questioning witnesses about ship operations, cargo loading, lashing and weather conditions that were forecast and encountered by the ship.
El Faro sank near the Bahamas in the Category 4 hurricane. All 33 crew members died.
The hearings, which can be watched live, are expected to run through May 27.
In an interview this morning, Eric Bryson, a St. John’s barge pilot who was one of the last people to see the crew and captain alive, said there was little discussion about Hurricane Joaquin as preparations were made for El Faro’s trip to Puerto Rico.
But he remembers El Faro Capt. Michael Davidson saying how he planned to handle the storm.
“I don’t recall what I said,” Bryson said. “But Capt. Davidson said ‘we’re just going to go out and shoot under it.'”
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the sinking, reviewing the age of the vessel — 41 years — the actions of the captain and the quality of forecasts by the National Hurricane Center and a private weather service used by the captain.
The forecast for Hurricane Joaquin was especially tricky.
Early predictions “indicated there would be little to no strengthening of Joaquin,” the National Hurricane Center notes in its report on the storm.
“For reasons we still don’t fully understand, the storm prospered,” said James Franklin, branch chief of the hurricane specialists unit at the National Hurricane Center. “It strengthened and held together against the shear and was pushed farther to the south.”
The ship’s data voice recorder, which may contain clues as to what happened before the ship’s sinking, has been found at the bottom of the ocean, but not yet retrieved.