UPDATE | Coast Guard: Missing ship sank, 1 body found
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Coast Guard said Monday that a U.S. cargo ship carrying 33 people that has been missing since it encountered high winds and heavy seas from Hurricane Joaquin sank and one body was found, but planes and ships will continue searching for the missing crew.
Capt. Mark Fedor said one large debris field was spotted near the last known location of the 790-foot container ship El Faro near the Bahamas. The body, which Fedor said was “unidentifiable,” was discovered in a survival suit, but no other human remains or survivors were immediately located.
“We are still looking for survivors or any signs of life,” Fedor said at a news conference near Miami. “We’re not looking for the vessel any longer.”
Three Coast Guard cutters, two C-130 aircraft, helicopters, commercial tugboats and a U.S. Navy plane were searching across a wide expanse of Atlantic Ocean near Crooked Island in the Bahamas. Fedor said a heavily damaged lifeboat from the El Faro was discovered, but it had no people or signs of life. The ship had two lifeboats capable of holding 43 people each.
Fedor said it appears the vessel lost power, making it extremely vulnerable to the Category 4 hurricane’s 140-mph winds and 50-foot waves. It had 391 shipping containers aboard, weight that could make the ship top-heavy and prone to capsizing, he added.
“These are trained mariners. They know how to abandon ship. They know how to survive in the water,” Fedor said of the crew. “Those are challenging conditions to survive.”
The El Faro departed from Jacksonville, Florida, on Sept. 29, when Joaquin was still a tropical storm. The ship had 28 crew members from the United States and five from Poland, and it was heading to Puerto Rico on a regular cargo supply run when it ran into trouble. Contact was lost early Thursday.
The crew reported that the ship had lost power, had taken on water and was listing 15 degrees but that the situation was “manageable,” in their last communication Thursday morning, according to ship owner TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico. They have not been heard from since.
Fedor said the National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard would launch an investigation into why the ship ventured toward the hurricane and how it sank.
Family members of the crew said Sunday that they were trying to remain optimistic as they awaited word of any developments at the Seafarer’s International Union hall in Jacksonville. Some sobbed and hugged each other.
“This is torture,” said Mary Shevory, mother of crew member Mariette Wright.