By Ava-joye Burnett


WASHINGTON D.C. (WJZ) — October 2015, a loaded cargo ship called the “El Faro” set sail from Florida to Puerto Rico. But the ship was on a deadly collision course with a powerful category 3 storm: Hurricane Joaquin.

The voice recorder revealed that the captain did not realize the severity of the storm until it was too late. Everyone on board died.

Rochelle Hamm’s husband, Frank — a Woodlawn High graduate — was one of the 33 on board.

“They went head-on into a hurricane, as a result, the ship sank. All crew members were lost,” said Rochelle Hamm.

Despite the grief, Hamm started lobbying lawmakers to change the rules out at sea.

“It was just three years of pain and every day we live with pain,” Hamm added.

The change finally came in 2018, when Congress passed a law. Cargo ships will be required to receive timely weather forecasts, including alerts for hurricanes. They’ll need emergency gear with location beacons and an anonymous system where crew members can report problems.

“I pushed the initiative because to me, I don’t want to see anybody else go through what we’ve been through,” Hamm said.

Lawmakers acknowledged that maritime safety issues are widespread. The findings showed that 21,000 deficiencies were issued to commercial vessels here in the United States.

President Donald Trump signed the legislation in September, and a portion of the law is called the “Hamm Alert Maritime Safety Act” in honor of Frank Hamm.

“We just had a new set of grandbabies, my husband wasn’t here to see that. Two of our kids graduated, my husband wasn’t here to see that,” Hamm added.

The Hamm Alert was part of a larger maritime law on Capitol Hill, but every lawmaker who voted supported the bill.

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Ava-joye Burnett

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