El Faro Captain uncertain of his future at TOTE

Captain Jason Neubauer, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) panel investigating the El Faro disaster of October 1st 2015, stated on Friday that the NTSB had collected sufficient evidence for its forthcoming report that could make recommendations to prevent another disaster, as well as a report finding the probable cause of the accident. On the final days of the third hearing of the panel, it transpired that El Faro Captain Michael Davidson was uncertain of his future with his employers Tote Services Inc.

All 33 crew on the El Faro died when the 790-foot vessel sank during Hurricane Joaquin, two days after leaving Jacksonville en route to Puerto Rico.

Davidson wrote a week before he died about feeling taken advantage of by his employer and that he was uncertain of his future with the company. In a September 24th 2015 e-mail he wrote that the company paid well, but he did not know how long the “good fortune” with continued work would last, and that he did not yet know if he would be captain of a new line of vessels for Tote Services Inc.

Former crewing manager Melissa Clark had repeatedly expressed concerns about Davidson in the months leading up to the sinking, writing in an e-mail of “dwindling confidence” in his leadership. She and Michael Kondracki, Tote’s director of labour relations, tried to dissuade Tote CEO Philip Greene from hiring Davidson for a post on a new ship.

Clark said that officers and crew members expressed frustration with Davidson. She said those concerns were common on ships, but there appeared to be more of them on the El Faro. Greene had testified in a previous hearing a year ago that, despite a critical email from Clark, Davidson was “eminently qualified to be master of one of our ships”. Clark testified on Thursday that her e-mail was a summary of discussions of a selection committee for a new line of LNG vessels that would be on the same

Jacksonville-to-Puerto Rico route as the El Faro. She testified that she felt there were better candidates available for the the new class of ships, Marlins.

Davidson and the chief mate talked about their anxiety over their futures with the company in the transcript of the conversations recorded on the ship’s navigation deck in its final hours. The chief mate said he was on the “chopping block,” was “waiting to get screwed” and “I don’t know what’s happening to me.” “Same here,” Davidson replied.

Board member Keith Fawcett asked Clark if anyone with Tote had communicated with the El Faro crew members about their futures. Clark was uncertain. She said she did not know if Davidson would have known about his future at the time, despite testimony the company had opted to hire another captain.

The widow of El Faro captain Michael Davidson issued a closing statement through an attorney. It noted that Davidson was shown during the hearings to be a careful professional who had refused to leave a crew member behind, giving up a chance to fight for his own survival. During the final round of testimony, the panel also learned that the El Faro had little room for troubles on its final voyage, operating with a minimal stability margin.