One year ago, the crew of the container ship El Faro, with five Maine Maritime Academy graduates on board, got caught in a powerful Category 4 hurricane and sank off the coast of the Bahamas in 15,000 feet of water.

All 33 crew members, including the ship’s captain, 53-year-old Michael Davidson of Windham, were lost at sea in one of the worst maritime tragedies in U.S. history.

This weekend, many of the families of the victims will gather in Jacksonville, Florida, to mark the one-year anniversary of the El Faro tragedy. The ship sank on the morning of Oct. 1, 2015.

Several events to remember the victims are scheduled this weekend in Jacksonville, which was the El Faro’s home port.

Maine Maritime Academy President William J. Brennan said Thursday evening that the school will not commemorate the El Faro incident out of respect for the families of all the graduates who have died at sea.

“At Maine Maritime Academy we work on the sea, and we train hard for extremely complex and even perilous situations, so our purpose here at MMA is all the more critical in the face of an incident such as the sinking of the El Faro,” Brennan said in a statement. “Out of respect for the families of all of our alumni who have been lost since the founding of the Academy, we will not commemorate the one-year mark of the incident in a public way.”


Brennan said scholarships have been established in the names of the El Faro crew.

“We are honoring the legacy of our alumni who are forever the officers and crew of the El Faro through the establishment of scholarships in their names,” Brennan said.

Brennan said the names of all MMA alumni lost at sea will be read at the Regimental Induction Ceremony during the school’s 2020 Regimental Induction Weekend on Saturday, Oct. 8.

“The names of all of our alumni lost in the line of duty or at sea will be read at the ceremony, recognizing their service, their contributions, and their influence on us,” Brennan said.

In addition to Davidson, the other crew members with a connection to Maine were 25-year-old Michael L. Holland of Wilton, 23-year-old Dylan O. Meklin of Rockland and 34-year-old Danielle L. Randolph of Rockland. A fifth crew member, 26-year-old Mitchell T. Kuflik of Brooklyn, New York, graduated from Maine Maritime Academy.

Holland’s mother, Deb Roberts of Wilton, traveled to Jacksonville to participate in the ceremonies. Roberts said she was looking forward to meeting some of the families that she has only been able to correspond with on social media.


She met a close friend when her flight landed in Atlanta. Laurie Bobillott’s daughter, Danielle Randolph, was on the El Faro when it sank. Roberts and Bobillott were booked on the same flight from Atlanta to Jacksonville.

“I’m feeling good, but it has been a mix of emotions,” Roberts said Thursday evening in a telephone interview from Florida. “It’s hard coming back here. It brings back a lot of emotions and memories from when I came here last year with the hope that Michael was still alive.”

Roberts and other El Faro family members have been invited to attend a Friday night dinner hosted by the American Maritime Officers union in Jacksonville.

The Seafarers International Union will hold a remembrance Saturday at 11 a.m. in Jacksonville. Seventeen of the El Faro crew members lived in the Jacksonville area. A monument will be unveiled at the union hall, featuring a miniature lighthouse with 33 stars.

Earlier this week, the Florida Times Union reported that the Jacksonville City Council voted to pass a resolution changing the name of Dames Point Park to El Faro Memorial at Dames Point Park. The newspaper said El Faro’s owner – Tote Services Inc. – will pay for improvements to the blighted park and erect a permanent 10-foot statue in the crew’s memory.

That statue will be unveiled at 4 p.m. Saturday, according to Roberts.


“We don’t have a grave. No body was buried, but at least we will have a place we can return to,” Roberts said, referring to the memorials.

The El Faro made its final departure from Jacksonville on Sept. 30. At the time, the cargo ship was carrying 391 shipping containers and 294 cars and trailers. Davidson was aware of the storm, which had been named Joaquin, and was trying to travel under the weather system. Instead, he sailed directly into the hurricane’s path.

El Faro lost propulsion and started to take on water during the storm, which battered the 790-foot ship with waves as tall as 30 feet.

Davidson ordered the crew to abandon ship, according to El Faro’s voyage data recorder, which the National Transportation Safety Board and the Navy recovered in August. It contains 26 hours of conversations that took place on the bridge, as well as navigational data, onboard radar images and wind data.

In addition to 28 American crew members, there were five Polish mariners on board the cargo ship. Tote Services has settled 23 of the 33 wrongful death claims filed by the families, according to the Florida Times Union.

The NTSB and the Coast Guard continue to investigate the circumstances that caused the El Faro to sink. Two hearings have been held this year by the Coast Guard’s Marine Board of Investigation, with a third hearing expected to be held once the NTSB has developed a transcript of the sounds and discernible words captured on the El Faro’s bridge audio.

“The vessel’s loss of propulsion was mentioned on the bridge audio about 6:13 a.m. (Oct. 1). Also captured was the master speaking on the telephone, notifying shoreside personnel of the vessel’s critical situation. He also informed them he was going to send out an emergency distress signal,” the NTSB said in a news release issued after the data recorder had been found. “The master sounded the abandon ship alarm about 7:30 a.m., Oct. 1.”

The recording of conversations on the bridge ends about 10 minutes later.


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