El Faro's sister ship issued no-sail order by Coast Guard months before shipwreck

El Faro's sister ship, El Yunque.
(Image credit: Twitter.com/NTSB)

The Coast Guard issued a no-sail order to the El Yunque cargo ship three months before its sister ship, El Faro, sank off the coast of the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin.

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The container ships were both built in the 1970s, owned and operated by subsidiaries of Tote Inc. of Princeton, New Jersey, and transported goods between Puerto Rico and Jacksonville, Florida. Coast Guard records show that the El Yunque was ordered to stay at dock three months ago because it had deteriorated lifeboat machinery, and it couldn't sail until that was taken care of; three weeks later, the order was lifted after the fixes were made, but the records show it still needed "significant repairs." Coast Guard records show El Faro had a history of engine and other failures over the past few years, but El Yunque's record was worse.

"A no-sail order is a big deal," John M. Cullather, a former congressional staffer who worked on marine safety legislation, told The New York Times. "Coast Guard inspectors usually let things go and give an order to repair before the ship goes to its next port of call. If there's a no-sail order, that's an immediate threat to the health and safety of the crew." The National Transportation Safety Board has been looking at the El Yunque for clues as to why the El Faro sank, killing all 33 people on board.

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On Oct. 1, en route from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico, El Faro's captain said the vessel had stalled close to the Bahamas, was leaning 15 degrees, and taking on water; no one heard from him again. Rescuers later found one body inside a survival suit, and a badly damaged lifeboat. People who had been on the El Faro recently said the ship had problems with dropping one of its lifeboats, and Capt. William Doherty, a marine consultant, said that since El Yunque's inspection records were alarming, it would have made sense to check on the condition of El Faro. "Wouldn't you go aboard the identical sister ship that is run by the same operator in the same port and see if the same condition existed on that ship, too?" he said. "Something went wrong. The ship sank and the lifeboat didn't save anybody."

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for TheWeek.com. Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and EW.com, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.