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Investigators Set Mission to Recover El Faro’s VDR

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

June 6, 2016

  • El Faro's voyage data recorder next to the ship's mast on ocean floor (Photo: NTSB)
  • El Faro (File photo: Tote)
  • El Faro's voyage data recorder next to the ship's mast on ocean floor (Photo: NTSB) El Faro's voyage data recorder next to the ship's mast on ocean floor (Photo: NTSB)
  • El Faro (File photo: Tote) El Faro (File photo: Tote)

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it is set to launch a mission to recover the voyage data recorder (VDR) of sunken cargo ship El Faro.

The VDR, belonging to U.S. flagged El Faro which sank during Hurricane Joaquin last October, was located April 26 in about 15,000 feet of water near the Bahamas. The El Faro wreckage was positively identified on November 1, 2015, during the NTSB’s initial mission to locate the wreckage. 
Video gained from remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) during the initial search revealed the El Faro's navigation bridge structure and the deck below it had separated from the hull, NTSB said. The missing bridge structure included the mast and its base to which the VDR was mounted. The navigation bridge was found November 11, but searchers were not able to locate the mast or the VDR.
The NTSB announced February 11, 2016, that it would launch a second search mission to locate the VDR and document the wreckage and debris field. That effort succeeded in locating the VDR and completing video- and photo-documentation of the accident site. Shortly after the VDR was located, the NTSB announced that another mission to recover the VDR would be launched.
After investigators collaborated in May with scientists and deep water recovery experts, to determine how the VDR could be recovered given its proximity to nearby obstacles, the NTSB contracted with the U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage to assist in the recovery effort. 
The naval resources participating in the recovery effort include the USNS Apache and CURV-21, a remotely operated underwater vehicle. CURV-21 is the same equipment used to locate the El Faro wreckage in November.
Investigators from the NTSB and the U.S. Coast Guard, and engineers from the U.S. Navy and Phoenix International, the operator of CURV-21, will be aboard USNS Apache when it departs in early July for the accident site near the Bahamas. 
The trip to the accident site is expected to take three to four days, followed by five days on scene to recover the VDR. After the VDR is recovered and USNS Apache returns to shore, the VDR will be brought to the NTSB laboratory here, where investigators will examine the VDR and download and analyze any information it may contain.

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