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Sinking of ship El Faro and Marine Electric

Ship Stability and Sinking

Sinking of ship El Faro and Marine Electric

Both El Faro and Marine Electric capsized and sank in severe storms. Normally waves produced by storms cascade over the bow, flood the deck and the water sloshes over the side with little consequence. In this case water found its way into the forward holds, reduced buoyancy and ship stability. Both ships capsized and sank with loss of life.

The Ships 

SS El Faro was 791 feet long, 94 foot beam, 42 foot draft, launched in 1974. It sank in October 2015 north of the Bahama Islands during hurricane Joaquin with winds more than 80 knots.

SS Marine Electric was 605 foot bulk (coal) carrier, 75 foot beam, launched in May 1944. She sank in February 1983 off the Virginia coast in winds greater than 55 mph and rough seas.


Ship Stability

A ship will normally return to an upright (vertical) position even after being pushed off vertical by wind or wave action. A  ships center of gravity (labelled G) is a downward force that represents the sum of all weights on the ship (ship and cargo). A ship center of buoyancy (labeled B) is an upward force that represents the center of mass of the volume of water that the hull displaces. An upright ship requires “G” to be vertically in line with “B” . When pushed off vertical, B moves outward and pushes the ship back toward vertical . Ship stability requires G to remain fixed. It is essential when loading a ship that the cargo remain fixed. Tankers operate with full tanks or empty tanks. Never half full tanks. Half full tanks would allow G to shift with the liquid sloshing around inside the ship’s tanks and negatively affect stability.


In the case of El Faro and Marine Electric, so much water flooded into the forward holds because of an open hatch (El Faro) or leaks (Marine Electric) that ship stability was adversely affected.  The ship rolled over and sank.

Other ships Disappearance - 

Our knowledge of what happens to later ships such as El Faro have been greatly enhanced by modern communication systems. In older ships, rapid failures in ship’s structure or stability can occur before communication is established. Examples of ships that have disappeared are:

      SS Poet – 522 foot bulk transport, launched 1944. Lost in 1980 without a trace after departing Delaware Bay. Suspected cause “loss of hull integrity resulted in rapid sinking.

      MS Munchen – 857 foot lighter or unpowered barge transport ship, launched 1972. Lost in 1978 in 56 knot winds. Suspected rogue wave damaged ship and cargo shifted.


MS Munchen


     MV Derbyshire – 965 foot, 145 foot beam, launched in 1976. Lost in a 1980 typhoon (64 knots) south of Japan. Cause – flooding of forward holds. See of what happened to MV Derbyshire when flooding took place.

Sunset from MV Derbyshire


     SS Carl D Bradley - 639 foot, 65 foot beam, bulk carrier lost in 1958 in 52 knot winds on lake Michigan. Riveted construction. The ship tore apart when forward holds flooded.


Recommended reading – “Until the Sea Shall Free Them” by Robert Frump. Also Corsair, Ocean Tramp by Capt. Bruce Fisher. In memory of Clayton Babineau who lost his life during sinking of Marine Electric and all who have lost their lives at sea. 

SS Panoceanic Faith lost 780 miles southwest of Kodiak Alaska due to flooding in number one hatch.


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