The voyage data recorder belonging to TOTE Services’ sunken containership El Faro is back on land, but any audio recovered from it will not be released to the public.
Instead, a transcript will tell the story of El Faro’s final hours, Brian Curtis, acting director of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Office of Marine Safety told reporters Friday in Jacksonville, Fla.
Federal law prohibits release of any audio, Curtis said, so family members of the 33 mariners killed in the October 2015 sinking will not be able to hear the recordings either.
The viability of the data is still in question, although the VDR was recovered intact from more than 15,000’ of water near the Bahamas on Monday.
"Visually, it didn't show any damage, but that doesn't mean much because we are more interested in what's inside and whether we can access the files," Curtis told television station News4Jax.
The NTSB brought the recorder to the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Friday for examination and analysis. Curtis did not provide a timeline for how long it might take to release a transcript or other information that the VDR could reveal, such as GPS data. NTSB officials have said that the VDR should contain roughly 12 hours of records from before the ship sank in Hurricane Joaquin on Oct. 1.
NTSB plans call for two rounds of analysis of the VDR. First, three NTSB officials critical to the investigation and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Chief of Investigations and Casualty Analysis will listen to the raw audio. Then, the agency will convene a VDR investigative group which, in addition to NTSB and Coast Guard Officials, could include representatives from the American Bureau of Shipping and TOTE Services to help analyze data and voices on the recording.
A Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation has conducted a pair of hearings into the 790’ ro/ro containership’s sinking. A third hearing could be convened to address any new information recovered from the VDR.
"We hope that the information contained will help with the goal to learn everything possible about the loss of our crew and vessel," TOTE said in a statement emailed to News4Jax. ”We look forward to the NTSB report and welcome safety-related recommendations that benefit our seafarers."