The National Transportation Safety Board will meet Dec. 12 in Washington, D.C., to determine probable cause in the Oct. 1, 2015 sinking of the 790’ ro/ro containership El Faro, which went down in Hurricane Joaquin taking all 33 crew members.

The worst U.S. flag maritime disaster in more than 30 years resulted in an intensive inquiry by the Coast Guard and NTSB, with technical deep-sea recovery expertise lent by the Navy and oceanographers. Investigators focused on recovering a crucial piece of evidence from the wreckage – the voyage data recorder (VDR), which contained more than 26 hours of audio recorded from the El Faro’s navigation bridge.

A first recovery mission failed to find the VDR, which was located atop the bridge and house that separated during the sinking. A second mission in April 2016, supported by the National Science Foundation, located the mast wreckage and VDR, but it took a third Navy-supported mission with remotely operated vehicles to recover the recorder.

An extensive analysis of the recording by NTSB technicians yielded a 500-page VDR transcript – a crucial element in the NTSB El Faro accident docket, which includes more than 16,000 pages of factual reports, interview transcripts and related documents.

“In addition to determining the probable cause of the sinking and any factors that may have contributed to the accident, the Board is expected to vote on recommendations to address safety issues uncovered during the investigation,” NTSB officials said in announcing the planned meeting.

The meeting is scheduled to be held in the NTSB Board Room and Conference Center, 429 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, D.C., beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET Dec. 12.  The board meeting is open to the public and media and will be webcast live at

More information about the NTSB investigation into the sinking of El Faro, including links to images, videos, news releases and the accident docket, is available at


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.