Marine surveyor gives testimony on El Faro Steam Plant inspection

The US Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation into the loss of the El Faro continued with testimony from marine surveyors for the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), which provided classification and inspection services for the vessel.

Mark LaRose, a senior marine surveyor for ABS, performed a survey for the El Faro in June 2015, part of its continuous machinery survey program. Under the program, the ABS surveys 20 percent of the machinery on a ship every year for five years.

As in previous witness’ testimony, LaRose told the Board that the vessel’s engine room was very clean, “a sign of how they’re treating it,” and he “did not see anything that was a concern,” he said.

Two weeks of notice would ordinarily be required for requesting an inspection under the Alternative Compliance Program (ACP, the program under which a class society may perform statutory services in lieu of the Coast Guard), the Board said. Mr. LaRose had only received a day’s notice, but he said that this had not impeded his ability to perform an inspection.

A survey of the ship’s boilers was not part of his scope for that attendance, he said, adding that the El Faro’s chief engineer did not tell him of a previous, non-ABS boiler inspection conducted some days before his visit.

Following his testimony, ABS surveyor Jamie D’Addieco responded to extended questioning regarding the testing of a component of the El Faro’s steam plant. She supervised a hydrostatic pressure test on an economizer unit with a designed maximum operating pressure of 1200 PSI; based on the fact that the ship had already been operating on the repaired unit for a period of a week, she believed that a test to 800 PSI would be sufficient. The Coast Guard standard is for 1.5 times the maximum working pressure – for this unit, 1800 PSI.

However, as the inspection was performed under the Alternative Compliance Program, “the ACP supplement would take precedence, the [Code of Federal Regulations] wouldn’t be applicable in this case,” she asserted. ACP rules specify “a hydrostatic test pressure” without a specific value, she said, adding that “at my discretion, 800 PSI was satisfactory for the test on the economizer.”

As for the selection of that particular value, 800 PSI was the pressure “they had on at the time of the attendance,” D’Addieco said.

Further, “given the age of the vessel, and for a boiler that had been in service this long, going above the operating pressure may not be a safe way of testing it,” D’Addieco said. “In my opinion, it could lead to an unsafe situation.” She did not discuss the material condition of the boilers beyond their age.

In previous testimony, boiler inspector Luke Laasko, a superintendent for Walashek Industrial & Marine, quoted from his written report on the condition of the vessel’s steam plant. His inspection determined that components of the starboard side boiler were in “very bad shape,” and that her engineers believed her port side boiler was also in need of maintenance.

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