South Florida

Search confirms wreck as missing El Faro

Searchers confirmed a wreck found at15,000 feet over the weekend belongs to the El Faro, which sank Oct. 1 as it drifted powerless about 36 miles from the eye of Hurricane Joaquin.
Searchers confirmed a wreck found at15,000 feet over the weekend belongs to the El Faro, which sank Oct. 1 as it drifted powerless about 36 miles from the eye of Hurricane Joaquin. AP

Searchers confirmed Monday that a wreck found over the weekend is the El Faro, a cargo ship that sank earlier this month as it drifted powerless near a dangerous Category 3 hurricane in the Bahamas.

The wreck, 15,000 feet below the ocean’s surface, is intact and sitting upright. In a brief statement on the National Transportation Safety Board website Monday afternoon, officials said they had positively identified the wreck and would continue searching the vessel and area around it.

Searchers, equipped with sonar, discovered the wreck at about 1:35 p.m. Saturday on their fifth pass near the ship’s last known location off Crooked Island.

Once they detected the wreck, the NTSB said searchers deployed a remote-controlled vehicle that can operate at depths up to 20,000 feet deep. The vehicle is equipped with a high-resolution digital still camera, as well as black-and-white and color television cameras.

The El Faro, with a crew of 33 aboard, went missing during its weekly run from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico. Despite hurricane warnings, Capt. Michael Davidson told ship-owner Tote Maritime Puerto Rico that he planned to take a course about 65 miles west of the worsening storm.

But on Oct. 1, Davidson called officials to report that the 790-foot long cargo ship had lost propulsion, had taken on water and was listing at 15 degrees. NTSB officials later reported that a hatch had blown and the hull had been breached. Minutes later, U.S. Coast Guard officials received a series of alerts from the ship’s emergency distress systems and launched a search. But dangerous hurricane conditions — sustained winds eventually reached 130 mph — hampered efforts. So far, only a single body in a survival suit was found, four days after the ship sank on Oct. 5, but conditions were too rough to retrieve it, Coast Guard officials said.

Now that the ship has been located, the remote-controlled vehicle, called a CURVE-21, will be used to document the vessel and the debris field and attempt to locate the ship’s voyage data recorder, NTSB officials said. The recorder, mounted on the bridge, could hold important clues about the crew’s last moments, including conversations as well as data about the ship’s operations.

Jenny Staletovich: 305-376-2109, @jenstaletovich

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