El Faro: What happened to missing container ship?

Searchers are now focused on finding signs of surviving crew members of the El Faro, a cargo ship that went missing of the coast of the Bahamas during hurricane Joaquin.

REUTERS/Tote Maritime/Handout via Reuters/File
The El Faro is shown in this undated handout photo provided on Friday by Tote Maritime in Jacksonville, Fla. The container ship El Faro was en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico from Jacksonville when the Coast Guard received a satellite notification that the ship had lost propulsion and was listing heavily.

A cargo ship missing since Thursday with 33 crewmen aboard sank off the coast of the Bahamas during hurricane Joaquin, the US Coast Guard says.

An airborne crew spotted several survival suits floating amid debris from the El Faro. Most were empty but one contained unidentified human remains, Capt. Mark Fedor said Monday. Searchers are now focused on finding the missing vessel and on signs of any survivors, CNN reported.

The El Faro left Jacksonville, Fla., on Sept. 29, when Joaquin was still a tropical storm. The ship had 28 American and five Polish crew members, and it was on a regular cargo supply run headed for Puerto Rico when it ran into trouble. Winds of more than 130 miles per hour and waves of up to 30 feet had battered the ship, which had taken on water, had lost power, and was listing 15 degrees.

But the situation was “manageable,” the crew reported in their last communication Thursday morning, according to ship owner TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico.

The crew has since lost contact.

The first sign of the ship, an orange life ring, was found Saturday about 120 miles northeast of Crooked Island. That was followed by a 225-square-mile debris field, NBC News reported, as well as an oil sheen on Sunday.

The Coast Guard said it had searched more than 70,000 square nautical miles of the Atlantic as the search resumed early Monday.  

Still, there has been no sign of El Faro or of any lifeboats, according to TOTE.

"With every passing hour, the search expands,” Lt. Cmdr. Gabe Somma told CNN. “When you're searching for something in the ocean, tracking the drift patterns and dealing with weather elements – things are moving.”

Phil Greene, president and chief executive of TOTE Services, Inc., has defended the company’s decision to authorize the voyage, saying the crew members were equipped to handle changes in weather and that El Faro 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.

Family members of the crew said Sunday that they were trying to remain optimistic as they awaited word of any developments.

"This is torture," Mary Shevory, mother of crew member Mariette Wright, told the Associated Press.

Ms. Shevory, who had come to the Seafarer's International Union hall in Jacksonville from her home in Massachusetts, said her 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.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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