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VIDEO: Documenting a disaster

After wrapping up its months-long investigation of the sinking of the cargo ship El Faro, the National Transportation Safety Board has opened the accident docket and released underwater images and video.

The 790-foot ship went missing Oct. 1 during Hurricane Joaquin and was located Oct. 31 in about 15,000 feet of water — deeper than the RMS Titanic — in the vicinity of its last known position near Crooked Island, Bahamas. None of the 33 crewmembers survived.

Video revealed that the navigation bridge structure and the deck below it had separated from the ship. The missing structure included the mast and its base, where the voyage data recorder was mounted.

Take a look at some of the footage. The video has no audio.

The images of the El Faro that the NTSB has released include nine underwater photos and more than 47 minutes of video from CURV-21, a remotely operated vehicle used to document the wreckage and debris field.

The El Faro docket is available here.

Additional information and resources are available on the NTSB’s webpage for the El Faro investigation.

If there eventually is a finding of liability against TOTE Services, the ship’s Jacksonville, Fla.-based operator, the company asks for a limitation on that liability — for the deaths of all 33 crewmembers — of $15.3 million, which under a law originally enacted in 1851 is $420 per gross registered ton, plus the value of the ship’s cargo.

A suit filed on behalf of five Polish contract workers says that, contrary to statements by TOTE, the company was negligent and is liable for the deaths of the crew and that $15 million is insufficient to compensate the families for their losses.

In a recorded satellite phone call made to the emergency call center at TOTE at 7 a.m. on Oct. 1, El Faro’s captain said there had been a hull breach — a scuttle (hatch) had blown open — letting water into hold No. 3. He also said the ship had lost its main propulsion and the engineers could not restart it.

The Coast Guard adds that the captain reported the ship listing at 15 degrees.

Soundings published an in-depth report on the sinking and subsequent investigation in the January issue.