The United States Coast Guard confirms that the 790 foot cargo ship El Faro went down off the Bahamian coast with 28 American crew members aboard. The 41-year-old vessel was sailing from Jacksonville, Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico to deliver cargo. It is reported that the vessel lost power while trying to sail around the approaching Hurricane Joaquin near Crooked Island. With no power the crew took a direct hit from a weather system which had estimated 140 mile per hour winds producing waves up to fifty feet. The Coast Guard found a 225 square mile debris field from the El Faro days after communication was lost. Within it was the awful discovery of a deceased crew member in his survival suit. At the time of this blog entry, no survivors have been found. The Coast Guard is continuing its search. The El Faro's owner, Tote Maritime, has set up a website providing periodic updates.
What makes this maritime tragedy unique is that the El Faro is American flagged and crewed by 28 United States seamen along with Polish nationals. This allows the crew members and their families to be protected by United States Maritime Law including the Jones Act and Death on the High Seas Act. This body of law allows surviving crew members to recover compensation for both the physical and psychological trauma sustained from any negligence of Tote Maritime or unseaworthiness of the vessel. Maritime law also allows the families of lost crew members to recover their loved ones' future earnings as well spousal and parental support which they otherwise would have received but for the accident. The Jones Act also allows the family to recover pre-death pain and suffering.
We sincerely hope that crew members will shortly be found alive. The Maritime Law Blog will continue to post about this event as facts become known.