JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — 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 30 feet (9 meters). 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.
“This is torture,” Mary Shevory, mother of crew member Mariette Wright.
Shevory, who had come to the union hall from her home in Massachusetts, said her 51-year-old daughter was devoted to her job working on the ship.
“I’m just praying to God they find the ship and bring my daughter and everyone on it home,” she said.
Laurie Bobillot’s daughter, Danielle Randolph, is a second mate on the El Faro. Bobillot said she was trying not to lose hope.
“We’ve got to stay positive,” said Bobillot, of Rockland, Maine. “These kids are trained. Every week they have abandon-ship drills.”
The first sign of the ship, an orange life ring, was found Saturday about 120 miles (193 kilometers) 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.
Phil Greene, president and CEO of TOTE Services, Inc., said the captain had been observing the weather patterns and discussed the weather as the El Faro passed its sister ship going in the opposite direction.
“On Wednesday, he sent a message to the home office with the status of the developing tropical storm. He said he had very good weather … and that his crew was prepared,” Greene said.
Greene said the El Faro has been in service for many years and was built to work in the rough seas off Alaska. “She is a sturdy, rugged vessel that was well maintained and that the crew members were proud of,” he said.
Fox reported from Nassau, Bahamas. Associated Press writer David McFadden contributed from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
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