OCTOBER 7, 2015—The U.S. Coast Guard has told family members of the crew of the lost cargo ship El Faro that it will suspend the search for survivors at 7 PM ET. The 790 ft containership is believed to have sunk en route from Jacksonville, FL, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, in Hurricane Joaquin on October 1. The ship is believed to have sunk near the Crooked Islands in the Bahamas in 15,000 feet of water. In its last contact with owner Tote Maritime, the ship had lost propulsion power, leaving it helpless in 140 mph winds and 50-foot seas.
There were 28 crew and 5 Polish nationals on board the ship when she left Jacksonville. No survivors have been found. One unidentified body in a survival suit was located in a debris field, but not recovered.
In a joint press conference held today by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the U.S. Coast Guard in Jacksonville, CAPT Mark Fedor says that efforts to locate survivors had focused on two debris fields, one about 300 square miles and another about 70 square miles. The debris included various pieces of Styrofoam, parts of the ship, life rings, and life rafts. CAPT Fedor says, “We focused on debris that a survivor might cling to.”
The Coast Guard had informed the families of the crew of their efforts during daily briefings. Fedor praised the families for their courage saying it was “inspirational.” He said despite going through a grieving process, “they asked how I was doing and Admiral Buschman was doing.” Rear Adm. Buschman is the Commander of the Coast Guard’s Seventh District.
The NTSB launched a go-team to Jacksonville to investigate the loss of the cargo ship El Faro on October 5. The team will be led by the NTSB’s Tom Roth-Roffy as investigator-in-charge. NTSB Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr accompanied the team and will serve as the principal spokesperson during the on-scene phase of the investigation.
In the press conference on Oct. 6, Vice Chairman Dinh-Zarr said the agency would leave “no stone unturned in its analysis.” It would be examining company e-mails, maintenance and inspection records, the design of the ship, and similar type vessels to determine the events leading up to and the cause of the loss of the ship.
The Coast Guard also said that it only received one hit off of the ship’s EPIRB on Oct. 1. A search will now focus on recovering the ship’s Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) or black box. The NTSB is in talks with the Navy to bring in the equipment to detect the signal from the VDR. The VDR is expected to have enough battery life to “ping” for about 30 days.
The El Faro, owned by Tote Maritime, was built in 1974 and updated in 1992 and 2006. It was carrying 391 containers and 294 trailers and cars.