Storm clouds

Article: Vanity Fair on the sinking of El Faro

William Langewiesche, author of The Outlaw Sea (one of my favourite books) wrote an in-depth article for Vanity Fair, about the sinking of the American cargo ship El Faro, with the loss of all hands on board, in hurricane Jaoquin in 2015. Called the “worst U.S. maritime disaster in three decades”, the loss of El Faro should have been avoidable.

With access to the 26 hours of recordings from the El Faro‘s “black box”, found after an almost year-long search, Langewiesche is able to provide detailed reporting on the hours leading up to the disaster. I found two aspects of the incident incredibly instructive. The sequence of decisions made about where to sail relative to the hurricane, and the culture onboard, seemed worth pondering. Weather forecasting services (a personal obsession) were also key to the fate of the ship to a surprising degree.

It is unlikely that Davidson [the captain] ever fully understood that he had sailed into the eye wall of Joaquin, but he must have realized by now that he had come much too close. As is usually the case, the catastrophe was unfolding because of a combination of factors that had aligned, which included: Davidson’s caution with the home office; his decision to take a straight-line course; the subtle pressures to stick to the schedule; the systematic failure of the forecasts; the persuasiveness of the B.V.S. graphics; the lack of a functioning anemometer; the failure by some to challenge Davidson’s thinking more vigorously; the initial attribution of the ship’s list entirely to the winds; and finally a certain mental inertia that had overcome all of them. This is the stuff of tragedy that can never be completely explained.

Read the full article here. It’s a gripping read by a master storyteller.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.