The Crew that Tried to Save the SS El Faro

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Second Mate Danielle Randolph
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Second Mate Danielle Randolph

Growing up in coastal Maine, Danielle Randolph felt the seafaring urge at an early age. When her mother, Laurie Bobillot, burst into tears while saying goodbye on Danielle’s first day of kindergarten, she scolded: “Mama, how am I going to learn about boats if you don’t let me go to school?” Sure enough, she went on to enroll at the Maine Maritime Academy, then began sailing for TOTE at age 24. “If she had it in her mind to do something, says Bobillot, “nothing was going to stop her.”

At sea, Randolph was consummately professional but rarely staid. Even in the thick of a crisis, she would crack a joke or go brew someone a fresh cup of coffee.

A decade in the Merchant Marine, though, had begun to take its toll. Life aboard El Faro meant 12-hour workdays with rest broken up into odd hours between her midday and midnight shifts. She told her friends that El Faro was a “rust bucket” and marveled, in particular, at the inadequacy of the obsolete open-deck lifeboats. She had been reluctant to sail with El Faro on this voyage but felt that she had to in order to get her 10-week rotation over by Christmas.

Still, she never hesitated to obey orders. Like many mariners, she had family ties to the sea — her mother was in the Navy — and was raised to respect the Merchant Marine’s military-like pecking order. Upon joining, she had sworn to “faithfully and honestly carry out the lawful orders of my superior officers.”

Bobillot confirms her daughter’s mind-set: “She was going to obey orders even if she knew it was wrong.”

Just before she embarked on the El Faro run, Randolph told her mother, “If anything happens to me when I’m out at sea, it’s OK, because that’s where I want to be.”

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