Voyage planning — Part III

Plans often don’t adequately allow for viable alternatives to be chosen as additional information becomes available. Confusing voyage planning and execution with a Swiss railroad schedule is done at your mortal peril.

This brings me to the sad tale of the TOTE containership El Faro, lost on Oct. 1 with all 33 hands after an unplanned but direct encounter with Hurricane Joaquin while en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Everyone, including those involved in the operation of the El Faro, knew at the time the ship left Jacksonville, Fla., that Joaquin had formed east of the Bahamas (aka Hurricane Alley) during the peak month for Atlantic hurricanes, that high sea surface temperatures made it conducive to strengthening, and that forecasts had a high degree of uncertainty. Does anything beyond those simple facts really matter that much in the end?

I’m just as curious, from a professional standpoint, as anyone to find out what exactly happened and why. But by focusing primarily on all of the particulars surrounding the El Faro’s demise one fails to see the forest for the trees. 

This is why Mario Vittone wrote his fine article, “We Won’t Learn Anything: What Sank El Faro and What Didn’t,” for a week after the casualty. Don’t be fooled by the hook of the title. Vittone isn’t suggesting that we won’t learn anything at all about the vessel’s loss. His angle is that no matter what we learn about it, most of it won’t be new. It won’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, and it won’t prevent it from ever happening again. Unless, that is, we truly learn to change the way we think about risk assessment and management.

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