Tense recounting of the final hours aboard a cargo ship that went down in a hurricane with all hands onboard.
At the end of September 2015, the captain and crew boarded El Faro, a ship loaded with metal containers, on a routine run from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico. At the same time, a hurricane was building in the Atlantic, but Capt. Mike Davidson felt they could outrun the storm and reach the island without too much trouble. Using interviews with family members and thousands of pages of documentation, including the transcriptions of hours of recordings from the voyage data recorder, Foy (Finding North: How Navigation Makes Us Human, 2016, etc.), a former officer on coastal freighters, pieces together the final few days aboard El Faro, including its fateful run-in with freakish Hurricane Joaquin on Oct. 1, 2015. The author carefully introduces the captain and crew, painting fully fleshed portraits, and he also provides a solid overview of the ship itself. Foy describes the numerous errors that occurred on the last voyage. “The quantum chain reactions that would end in shipwreck began individually and at varied locations, at different hours, sometimes on separate days,” he writes, “but they started to come together most concretely in the afternoon of Tuesday, September 29, 2015, as the SS El Faro prepared for sea.” These mistakes, including hubris, the relentless chase for profits, and breaches in safety, claimed the lives of all onboard. The author provides little information about what happened after the ship sank, how it was found, and who was found responsible—details that receive greater elaboration in Rachel Slade’s compelling book on the same subject, Into the Raging Sea. Foy maintains the focus on the hours leading up to the last minute that anyone was alive, and photographs, maps, and drawings help readers imagine the entire scenario.
A fact-filled, exciting tale of a ship’s tragic final voyage. A good complement to Slade’s more well-rounded book.