FLORIDA, United States, Wednesday January 27, 2016 – The families of 10 of the 33 people who died when cargo vessel El Faro sank off the Bahamas, during Hurricane Joaquin in October last year, have accepted US$500,000 settlements from the ship’s owner.
TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico confirmed that it had settled with the relatives of the deceased “through a respectful and equitable mediation process”.
“Since the loss of the El Faro, we have focused every effort on supporting the families of those on board. An important part of this support has entailed reaching fair and swift legal settlements for those who may choose them . . . We stress that our support of all the families will continue,” it said.
Although TOTE did not give the quantum of the amounts to be paid, the half million-dollar settlements were contained in court documents filed in federal court in Florida.
The 40-year-old El Faro went missing on October 1 after sailing into the path of Hurricane Joaquin during a routine voyage from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The last communication received from the ship that day was that it had lost propulsion and taken on water.
It was found on October 31 in about 15,000 feet of water in the vicinity of its last known position, near Crooked Island, Bahamas. Twenty-eight US crewmembers and five Polish workers were on board.
Those who have accepted the payouts include the families of ship captain Michael Davidson, four of the ship’s American crew, and the five Polish nationals who were on the vessel to prepare it for redeployment.
The settlement does not cover cases filed on behalf of El Faro’s other crew members.
A Texas attorney whose firm represents survivors of four mariners, is quoted by Jacksonville.com as saying that they are still fighting TOTE.
“These settlements will have no impact on how we move forward to trial on behalf of the families we represent,” Kurt Arnold said. “We will discover the truth of why [the] defendants allowed this tragedy to occur and ensure that defendants are held fully responsible.”
Jason Margulies, a Miami attorney, also said he would continue to vigorously represent his clients who “suffered tremendous loss due to the negligence of TOTE and the unseaworthiness of the El Faro”.
Meantime, the US Coast Guard announced yesterday that it has set the Marine Board of Investigation hearing into the disaster for February 16-26. The hearing, which will be open to the public, will focus on the pre-accident events relating to the loss, the regulatory compliance record of the ship, crewmember duties and qualifications, past operations of the vessel and the Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue operations.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which conducted its own investigation after El Faro went down, had hoped the ship’s voyage data recorder would be recovered so it could find out what happened before the vessel sank.
However, it was never located.