Search in 5th day near Bahamas for missing US ship, crew
The Coast Guard searched Monday for a fifth day near the Bahamas for a U.S. cargo ship carrying 33 people that has been missing since it encountered high winds and heavy seas from Hurricane Joaquin.
Two cutters continued searching overnight for the 790-foot El Faro, and a C-130 aircraft was launched at dawn, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Bobby Nash said Monday. A third cutter was on its way, he added.
Searchers looking across a wide expanse of Atlantic Ocean near Crooked Island have found debris and clues but no definitive word on the fate of the vessel or those on board. The Coast Guard in Miami planned a mid-morning update.
The vessel’s owner said a container that appears to have come from the ship was found and a debris field was found that included what appeared to be pieces of container. Searchers also spotted an oil sheen and found a life ring from the El Faro.
“We still don’t have communication with the ship, and we don’t even know if the debris field is from the ship,” Nash said.
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. It was being battered by winds of more than 130 mph and waves of up to 9 meters (30 feet). 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 on Thursday morning, according to ship owner TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico. They have not been heard from since.
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.
The first sign of the ship, an orange life ring, was found Saturday about 193 kilometers (120 miles) northeast of Crooked Island. That was followed by floating debris and the oil sheen Sunday.
TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico said a contracted tugboat and another of its ships had found a container that appears to be from the El Faro. But “there has been no sighting of the El Faro or any life boats,” company president Tim Nolan said in a statement.
The company has defended its decision to authorize voyage. Crew members were “equipped to handle situations such as changing weather,” it said in a statement.