In the inner circle of a memorial held Thursday night for the victims of the El Faro, the cargo ship swallowed by Hurricane Joaquin, the families and friends of many of the 33 lost crew members prayed.
One woman, her red-tipped hair swinging, pounded her feet and thrust her hands in the air. “Oh, God, give us the wisdom to understand you,” she shouted. “We know you are too wise to make a mistake, God.”
Her appeal was met with calls from the larger group of community members encircling them, clutching pink and white candles in a grassy field not far from the cranes and cargo containers of Jaxport, the home port of the 790-foot cargo ship that sunk off the Central Bahamas last week after sailing into the rapidly intensifying winds of Joaquin.
The emotional outpouring came a day after the U.S. Coast Guard ended an expansive search of Bahamian waters, finding only an array of debris, a damaged lifeboat and safety gear and unidentified human remains in a survival suit that was not recovered. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board of the factors that led to one of the worst commercial shipping accidents off the U.S. coast in decades will continue for up to the next 18 months.
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In a final briefing from Jacksonville on Thursday night, NTSB Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr said the Navy will aid in the search for the missing ship and its voyage data recorder — but that will not likely begin for another few weeks as officials gather sonar equipment and a remote-controlled vehicle for search ships.
“There's no delay,” she said when asked why the search was not starting sooner. “What we are doing is finding out where are the best assets to deploy to the right location.”
Officials had already started questioning former crew and onshore workers and gathering information for an investigation likely to take 12 to 18 months. A team also will look at what many marine and shipping experts believe is a critical part of the probe: weather forecasts from the time the ship left Jacksonville on Tuesday morning until it sank Thursday, presumably to better understand why the El Faro sailed into a strengthening hurricane.
The El Faro's sister ship, the El Yunque, arrived in Jacksonville on Thursday and also will be studied for clues, Dinh-Zarr said. Investigators also are interviewing that ship's captain, who recently served as a first mate aboard the El Faro and at some point passed the El Faro before it sank, Dinh-Zarr said. Investigators also have interviewed Tote, Inc.'s onshore safety contact, who was the last person to talk to Capt. Michael Davidson before the ship sank, and told investigators that Davidson had sounded “calm.”
At the memorial, community activist A.J. Jordan read the names of the lost crew, which included a dozen members from Jacksonville. The Coast Guard released the names of all 33 on Thursday. “We wanna pray the Coast Guard resumes the search,” he called to the crowd of nearly 200. “And bring home y'all relatives — bring each and everybody back home so they will have a resting place.”
A group of tall black men stood shoulder to shoulder through the prayers, their black shirts decorated with pyramids, palm trees and camels. They were members of the Prince Hall Shriners of Jacksonville, a fraternal charity organization. One of their own, Anthony Thomas, was aboard the El Faro.
They called him “untouchable,” said Patrick Williams. “When he took a stand, especially on his faith, nothing could touch him.”
Levante Davis said Thomas was a fixture at their temple whenever he was on land. “I just can't fathom that this happened,” Davis said.
THE EL FARO CREW
The U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday released the full list of crew members aboard the sunken ship. Eighteen were from Florida, including a dozen from the ship’s homeport of Jacksonville:
▪ Louis Champa Jr.: Daytona Beach.
▪ Roosevelt Clark: Jacksonville.
▪ Sylvester Crawford Jr.: Lawrenceville, GA..
▪ Michael Davidson: Windham, ME.
▪ Brookie Davis: Jacksonville.
▪ Keith Griffin: Fort Myers.
▪ Frank Hamm: Jacksonville.
▪ Joe Hargrove: Orange Park, FL.
▪ Carey Hatch: Jacksonville.
▪ Michael Holland: North Wilton, ME.
▪ Jack Jackson: Jacksonville
▪ Jackie Jones, Jr.: Jacksonville.
▪ Lonnie Jordan: Jacksonville.
▪ Piotr Krause: Poland.
▪ Mitchell Kuflik: Brooklyn, NY.
▪ Roan Lightfoot: Jacksonville Beach.
▪ Jeffrey Mathias: Kingston, MA.
▪ Dylan Meklin: Rockland, ME.
▪ Marcin Nita: Poland.
▪ Jan Podgorski: Poland.
▪ James Porter: Jacksonville.
▪ Richard Pusatere: Virginia Beach, VA.
▪ Theodore Quammie: Jacksonville.
▪ Danielle Randolph: Rockland, ME..
▪ Jeremie Riehm: Camden, DE.
▪ Lashawn Rivera: Jacksonville.
▪ Howard Schoenly: Cape Coral, FL.
▪ Steven Shultz: Roan Mountain, TN.
▪ German Solar-Cortes: Orlando.
▪ Anthony Thomas: Jacksonville.
▪ Andrzej Truszkowski: Poland).
▪ Mariette Wright: St. Augustine.
▪ Rafal Zdobych: Poland.