Data retrieved from the sunken El Faro’s voyage data recorder will be examined in a third round of hearings before a Coast Guard marine board of investigation this winter, as the fact-finding continues into the loss of the 790’ ro/ro containership ship and all 33 crew in Hurricane Joaquin last year.

“This final hearing session is anticipated to conclude the fact-finding phase of the investigation. Once the Coast Guard's fact finding is completed, the MBI will shift to the analysis phase and work independently from the National Transportation Safety Board's concurrent investigation,” according to a statement from the Coast Guard Thursday.

The hearing likely will be scheduled for this winter, the Coast Guard said. Once the board completes its report, it will be submitted to the Coast Guard commandant for review, final determinations on safety recommendations, and public release.

Three search efforts over 10 months after the Oct. 1 sinking finally yielded the voyage data recorder. A team on the 226’x42’x15’ Navy fleet tug Apache maneuvered the CURV-21, a deep ocean remotely operated underwater vehicle, 15,000' down to recover the VDR, using specialized tools to remove the VDR from the ship’s bridge mast structure.

Like flight data recorders on commercial aircraft, VDRs can record navigational data, voice communications on the bridge, and other data to assist in reconstructing accidents. The El Faro VDR has been undergoing analysis by the National Transportation Safety Board. Audio from the recorder will not be publicly released, and a transcript account will be prepared to tell the VDR’s story, Brian Curtis of the NTSB Office of Marine Safety said in August.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.