The Portland Propeller Club marked National Maritime Day on Friday by honoring the five Maine Maritime Academy graduates who died aboard the sunken cargo ship El Faro last year.

The families of the local victims accepted plaques, hugs and condolences from members of the local commerce group and the group’s guest speaker, Commissioner Paul Mercer of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Mercer is himself an MMA graduate, and former assistant to the academy’s president.

“We are family,” a visibly emotional Mercer told the families at the Italian Heritage Center in Portland. “They were talented and passionate about their careers. … They were respected and loved by their classmates. … We will always, always be there for you.”

Club officials said this is the first time all five families of the lost academy graduates have gathered together since the El Faro foundered last October during a hurricane while sailing from Jacksonville, Florida, to Puerto Rico. All 33 crew members aboard died, including Capt. Michael Davidson of Windham, a 1998 MMA graduate; Michael Holland of Wilton, a 2012 graduate; Danielle Randolph of Rockland, a 2004 graduate; Dylan Meklin of Rockland, a 2015 graduate; and Mitchell Kuflik of Groton, Connecticut, a 2011 graduate.

“We thought these people should be honored for their dedication, hard work and sacrifice,” said Tom Dobbins, president of the Portland Propeller Club’s board of governors.

The Coast Guard will begin its second round of public hearings Monday in Florida into the El Faro sinking. No cause has yet been determined, but witnesses testifying in a first round of hearings in February concluded they saw no hazardous conditions while on board in the weeks leading up to the sinking and that Davidson was eminently qualified to be a master of the ship despite an internal company email questioning his leadership.


But February testimony also revealed that the ship did not have a weather routing service, no one from the company’s onshore operations was tracking the hurricane, the cargo loading software did not reflect shipboard observations, and the 40-year-old vessel was about to be placed on a Coast Guard watch list for vessels that require inspector attention because of age or known problems.

This next round of hearings, which are expected to run through May 27, will focus on operations, loading, stability and weather conditions.

The Coast Guard expects to convene a third round later in the year, where data from a shipboard recorder just discovered last month but as yet unrecovered could be discussed.

Founded in 1938, the Propeller Club of Portland has 135 members, ranging from fleet operators to ship agents to maritime lawyers. The club promotes commerce and preservation of deep water berthing in the Port of Portland.

In addition to the El Faro victims, the club also honored a maritime lawyer, Michael Kaplan, a former longshoreman, for his service to the club and the port community.

This story was updated at 8:48 a.m.on May 14, 2016 to correct the spelling of the name of the maritime lawyer who was honored by the Portland Propeller Club.


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