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.

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