News and Information regarding container ship El Faro

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by Sailor Alan, Oct 4, 2015.

  1. Sailor Alan
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    Sailor Alan Senior Member

  2. NavalSArtichoke
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    NavalSArtichoke Senior Member

    In general, no. There are a lot of single-screw merchant ships out there.

    When I was in school, I sailed on one, a later model Mariner-class ship. It was single-screw, 20,000 SHP. We had 2 SSTGs, but we lost one during the voyage and had to use the Fairbanks-Morse diesel backup generator.

    The engine room was one large space, with the boilers located forward and the turbine and reduction gears aft. If this space flooded, you lost all power, except for a small emergency generator which must be located outside the machinery space by regulation.
  3. Sailor Alan
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    Sailor Alan Senior Member

    My next question was going to be, how stable are deck containers.

    I was impressed at how the stacks of deck containers stayed attached to a grounded container ship stacked 6-7 high and at a 45' list. If this is so, how do all the aleged containers get in the sea? Equally I have never heard someone complane their equipment was lost at sea in a container, so what is in all those aleged containers lost at sea? I suppose insurance companies know.

    All this is leading up to the deck cargo on the lost container ship. I assume the hatches are closed and latched, then the first layer of containers placed atop them, with a few feet clearance. I assume this means direct wave impingement on a hatch must therefore be nearly imposible?
  4. NavalSArtichoke
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    NavalSArtichoke Senior Member

    It's one thing when a ship goes aground at a large list; it's quite another when the ship remains floating in a storm, where the waves cause it to roll back and forth 45 degrees to one side. After a few hours of that kind of cyclic loading, the strength of any type of lashing is severely tested.

    Like everything else, containers and their lashings are only so strong. Heavy waves and the motion of the ship carrying the containers can cause large loads to develop in a container stack. If something breaks or gives way at the bottom of a stack, that whole stack and possibly some adjacent stacks, are put at risk for toppling over the side.


    Once in the sea, some containers sink and some will remain floating, which presents a hazard to navigation.

    Although containers are certified to carry only so much cargo, until recently, there were no regulations in place to certify that each container's weight matched what was declared by the shipper. Overloaded containers require stronger lashings to keep them in place, but the lashings can withstand only so much load before they fail.
  5. messabout
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    messabout Senior Member

    There were 50 foot seas. There is speculation that the ship, absent any steerage way, got broadside to the monster waves. After that she was pretty much doomed, particularly if there was heavy deck cargo.
  6. Petros
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    Petros Senior Member

    It seems to me, rolling over and taking a broad side beating, it is not inconceivable, heavily loaded, that it broke in half and sank suddenly. there would not be much left on the surface, only the small amount of flotsam that escaped.
  7. tom28571
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    tom28571 Senior Member

    Speculation is only speculation. A big storm at sea can sink most ships if propulsion power is lost. There is almost always a possibility of a wave that can capsize a ship lying abeam or break it apart if moving into them. The better the ship and its maintenance, the less likely it will founder. Containers are required to sink automatically if immersed for some predetermined time.

    Probably not many here have been aboard a ship at sea in a large cyclone. Most would be very surprised to know just how many ships are lost every year to weather, neglect and piracy. If they were commercial airplanes, this would most probably not be tolerated.

    I have wondered just how the Bahamas Islands that had such heavy impact from Joaquain have fared. That beast sat nearly on top of some Bahama islands for days.
  8. sharpii2
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    sharpii2 Senior Member

    I would think that a loaded container ship would be especially vulnerable to a strong hurricane. I would think it only second in vulnerability to a bulk carrier.

    Container ships ride high in the water and have lots of windage, due to stacks of containers.

    All this windage may made it very hard to keep the bow to the wind, which is what you must do with any powerboat.

    My guess is that the fierce winds over came the propulsion systems ability to keep the ship moving through the water fast enough to maintain steerage way. Once steerage way was lost, the ship turned broadside to the wind.

    Then it was just a matter of time before the waves either bash their way through an opening in the hull, or simply rolled the ship over.

    My guess it was the former rather than the latter.

    This would explain why the ship lost power.

    I don't think a ship designed to survive a cat 4 hurricane would be good for much else.

    Airliners survive storms by staying out of them. Ships often don't have that option.

    I suspect we will eventually find that there was no one to blame for this tragedy. It may all come down to just plain bad luck.
  9. We're Here
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    We're Here Junior Member

    My ticket was limited to small craft but I have an opinion and I'm having some trouble with attributing this disaster to bad luck.

    Why was it decided to leave Jacksonville and likely face very heavy weather?

    Once under way, why wasn't it decided to change course?

    I think that we can safely conclude that power was lost on Thursday - the day the first radio call was made. At that time, the El Faro was engaged in heavy weather - this again begs the question as to why the course wasn't changed when the vessel had power?

    The vessel had two of the high tech survival pods - one was found damaged and empty (perhaps due to listing, the other couldn't be launched?).

    I would have thought that there would have been a survivor/s had individual/s simply jumped in a properly fitted survival suit.

    Perhaps bad luck does explain it but there was an awful lot of it. Very sad.
  10. DCockey
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    DCockey Senior Member

  11. Sailor Alan
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    Sailor Alan Senior Member

    Thank you DCockey, very informative links, especially from Mario Vittone.

    First I was astonished it was steam turbine. My extremely limited experience with such vessels were all large, slow speed, diesels. I do understand the reason for single screw, economy and efficiency both.

    Second, I assume vehicals parked on a deck is inherently less space and weight effecient than regular cargo. Equally, I assume the designer takes this into account. I was interested in the rather alarmist, though correct, comments from 'pressheareld' on free surface, and lack of transverse bulkheads etc.

    A great pity we still think we can challenge the weather, and, worse, risk the lives of all those brave souls who heed the call to search and rescue.
  12. NavalSArtichoke
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    NavalSArtichoke Senior Member

    The El Faro was in the Jones Act trade, that is, its primary route of operation took it between ports located in the mainland US and Puerto Rico, which is also considered a part of the US for purposes of the Jones Act.

    As a Jones Act vessel, it was required to be built in the US and crewed by US citizens. At the time of construction, 1975, there were no large slow speed diesels manufactured in the US, so the El Faro was obliged to use steam. On the other hand, vessels constructed outside the US at the time were largely diesel powered, which were more economical than steam even then.

    I believe whatever vehicles the El Faro carried were located below the main deck, in a space where they were protected from exposure to the elements when the vessel was a sea.

    The container cargo carried by the El Faro appears to have been lashed to the main deck, using conventional container securing equipment. The stacks appear to be limited to no more than four containers high, which is modest compared to the jumbo containers vessels being constructed at the present.

    The design of roll on/roll off vessels does create spaces below decks which are large and open, but it's not clear that what happened to the Herald of Free Enterprise, a vehicle and passenger ferry, has any bearing on what happened to the El Faro.

    The Herald of Free Enterprise was a ferry which had vehicle doors located at the bow and stern to allow cars to be driven on and off the vessel. When the Herald left the pier in Belgium in March 1987, she capsized in a matter of minutes because her bow doors had been left open by the bosun in charge, who was asleep when he should have been on duty. The Herald was not sailing into the teeth of a hurricane in the North Sea (actually close to the English Channel) when it capsized, but water was able to enter the vehicle deck rather freely through the open doors because of the low freeboard at the vehicle deck. The casualty to the Herald was the result of crew negligence, compounded by the design of the vessel.

    As to vessels which capsize because of fire fighting efforts, it is also not clear what this has to do with the loss of the El Faro. A spectacular example of this was the capsize of the liner Normandie at her New York City pier in 1942 while a blaze aboard was being fought by the NYFD. The Normandie was divided into many more compartments than the El Faro and it was moored pierside, yet the vessel still capsized.
  13. JRM
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    JRM Junior Member


    The Jones Act is the reason such an old vessel will gas guzzling steam propulsion was STILL in service after 40 years.

    Most other vessels of this size are scrapped after about 20-25 years as the increasing cost of repairs and the old technology make them uncompetitive.

    More or less anywhere else in the world, this ship would have been scrapped and replaced long ago - like all the other steamers which became uneconomic decades ago.

    However, building a replacement in the US (because of the Jones Act) is an extremely costly undertaking, so some owners of vessels in US trade are forced to keep their vessels longer than most owners engaged in international trade.

    It may be too early to say that the 40 year age had something to do with the casualty, but it probably did not help.
  14. W9GFO
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    W9GFO Senior Member

    How is this accomplished? I'm sure a great deal of cargo is buoyant, meaning the container could only sink if it separates from it's contents.

  15. SukiSolo
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    SukiSolo Senior Member

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