Aggressive NTSB Head Investigator Retires Midway Through SS El Faro Probe

Posted: June 30, 2016 in Contemporary Commentary

Tom Roth-Roffy, the aggressive Investigator in Charge of the National Transportation Safety Board inquiry into the sinking of the SS El Faro,  has retired midway through the investigation to accept a position with SUNY Maritime College.

The retirement occurred a few weeks after Roth-Duffy aggressively questioned senior executives of Tote Services, the operator of the El Faro, and then seemed to apologize for suggesting the company was at fault.  The 40-year-old El Faro sailed into Hurricane Joaquin in October of last year, and all hands were lost.

In May, during a joint NTSB and US Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation hearing in Jacksonville, Mr. Roth-Roffy said to Peter Keller,  executive vice president of Tote, the parent company of firms that owned the El Faro.

“Few would dispute the loss of the ship El Faro and its cargo — and most importantly the loss of 33 souls aboard the El Faro — represents a colossal failure in management of the companies responsible for the safe operation of the El Faro.

“Could you share with this board your thoughts of the management failures that led to the loss of the El Faro?”

Mr. Keller replied:

“I think this tragic loss is all about an accident and I look to this board as well as the NTSB to try to define what those elements may or may not have been. I for one, with 51 years of experience in transportation, cannot come up with a rational answer.”

Later, Mr. Roth-Roffy said, “I would like to apologize to Tote if my question as stated was misinterpreted ”

“Tom’s retirement had nothing at all to do with the El Faro investigative activities or anything at the Marine Board of Investigation,” said Peter C. Knudson
NTSB Office of Public Affairs, in response to a question about the earlier Roth-Duffy incident.

“He received an offer from another organization that he said was just too good to pass up.  He was one of our most experienced investigators and we were sad to see him go”

Said a family member of a crew member lost on the El Faro, “Mr. Roth-Roffy was professionally and emotionally committed to this case.  It makes no sense that he would leave the biggest investigation of his life half way through it.”

The NTSB reached out to family crew members and said this in a June 29 letter:

“Earlier this month, the Investigator in Charge, Mr. Tom Roth-Roffy, retired from the National Transportation Safety Board. Mr. Roth-Roffy served with the NTSB for 18 years and completed 34 years of federal service before retiring. Mr. Roth-Roffy represented the NTSB from the initial on-scene phase of this investigation, through the search for the vessel in November, and during the USCG Marine Board of Inquiry proceedings. The Assistant Investigator in Charge, Mr. Brian Young, has assumed the duties of Investigator in Charge.  Mr. Young previously served as the Group Chairman of the Engineering Group and has been actively involved in the investigation.”

Mr. Roth-Roffy has not returned requests for comment.



  1. Bob Hunt says:

    Mr. Frump:

    My wife and I attended most of the sessions of the two hearings on the El Faro as concerned citizens of Jacksonville. The afternoon Mr. Roth-Roffy made his statement to Tote, I spoke with Mr. Roth-Roffy and expressed our admiration and appreciation for his statement. We could tell that he was deeply involved in the cause by the expression on his face, the tone of his voice, and the welling tears in his eyes as he thanked us for our support.

    Today, we received an email from one of the family members telling us that Mr. Roth-Roffy had “retired” from NTSB. While we were surprised, we shouldn’t have been. I am currently reading your book “Until The Sea Shall Free Them.” Now, I am no longer surprised that Mr. Roth-Roffy has “retired” right in the middle of such an important hearing. It now seems to both of us that he has forced to “retire”. Now, I will not be at all surprised if the final outcome of the hearings is the captain and first mate of the El Faro being blamed for the event, and the complete absolution of Tote, ABS and the Coast Guard inspectors.

    Your article states that Mr. Roth-Roffy has declined any comment. I would really like to be able to email him and tell him of our sincere sorrow over his current situation. If you have his current email, would you share it with us? It would be greatly appreciated.

    Are you planning on writing a book about the El Faro? If so, I presume you will be at the third hearing. My wife and I would love to meet you there, whenever it happens. I would like to take the opportunity to express, in person, my admiration of your book, and lend any support we could provide for your next one. If you will be there, you will know us as the “older” couple sitting a couple of rows behind the families.

    Thank you for any help you can provide.

    Bob Hunt


    • Robert Frump says:

      Hey Bob…Thanks for taking the time to post. Yes, I hope to be there for the hearing and would love to talk with you and your wife. Thanks for your kind comments on the Marine Electric book. I’m disappointed that Mr. Roth-Roffy is leaving the board but want to make it clear I have no knowledge of anything untoward. I think he would be a pretty tough cookie to pressure. I do not have his direct contact but have sent a message to him indirectly and if he establishes contact, I’d be happy to pass on your comments and request. As to a book on the El Faro — I have no plans for that but of course there is always a possibility. As to the remaining panel, I have the feel that they will go where they need to go and my gut tells me they will be critical of the ABS and to some degree Tote. They strike me as officers of integrity and focus with intent to do the correct job. I’ve seen “cover up” hearings — the SS Poet. This is not that. What will be very interesting of course is what the black box says. Tote has done a decent job of legal defense in that it has created a plausible alibi. When something went wrong, and they were told to, they fixed it. What they did not do of course was proactively plan to make these ships safer. They actively avoided stiffer inspections and upgrades that would have given the ship better lifeboats. Like most companies running the old ships, they settle for half-assed. And half-assed does not cut it in a hurricane. There is no smoking pistol that killed the El Faro. Only the scars of a thousands cuts of neglect and “settling.”


  2. König@localhost says:

    Thanks. But this is really a farce. Instead of paying cash to silence an investigator, you simply offer him a job at SUNY. This is so a Merica.

    Tobias Koenig
    Lexington Maritime GmbH

    Phone +49.40.368.079.919
    Fax +49.40.368.079.929
    Mobile +49.172.403.1327
    Cell +1.347.607.8869

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. ftmercer says:




    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s