Search ends for El Faro survivors

The U.S. Coast Guard has ended it search for possible survivors from the American cargo ship El Faro, which is believed to have sank Thursday with the loss of all 33 crew members.

The announcement comes an exhaustive 6-day search for survivors covering more than 183,000 square nautical miles. The search was officially suspended Wednesday night at sundown.

“I have come to a very difficult decision to suspend the search for the crew of the El Faro at sunset tonight. My deepest condolences go to the families, loved ones, and friends of the El Faro crew,” said Rear Adm. Scott Buschman, commander, Coast Guard 7th District. “U.S. Coast Guard, U.S Navy, U.S. Air Force, and the Tote Maritime tug crews searched day and night, sometimes in perilous conditions with the hope of finding survivors in this tragic loss”

The 790-foot roll-on/roll-off containership EL Faro had 33 crew members, including 28 Americans and 5 Polish nationals, when it sank sometime Thursday in Hurricane Joaquin while off the coast the Bahamas. The names of the crew members have been released by the TOTE Maritime and are listed here.

The Coast Guard is set to hold a joint conference with the NTSB on Wednesday to provide an update on the search for the missing crew and the investigation.

Communication was lost with the ship Thursday morning after the Coast Guard received a satellite notification from the crew at 7:20 a.m. stating that the ship had lost power, taken on water and developed a 15 degree list as it battled Hurricane Joaquin. The situation was reported to be contained and being managed by the crew, the notification said.

The El Faro departed Jacksonville, Florida on its normal route to San Juan, Puerto Rice on Tuesday, September 29th when then-Tropical Storm Joaquin was located a few hundred miles from the Bahamas and packing 40 knot winds. By Thursday, Joaquin had grown into a dangerous Category 4 hurricane with 110 knot winds and wave heights likely up to about 35 feet while centered right off eastern coast of the Bahamas.

The Coast Guard has reported that the last known location of the ship was 35 miles northeast of Crooked Island, Bahamas, approximately the same location as the eye of the slow-moving hurricane on Thursday.

The ship is believed to have sunk in approximately 15,000 feet of water.

On Saturday, search crews located a life ring in the water bearing the name ‘El Faro’ – the first sign of the ship since it went missing Thursday. By Sunday night, the Coast Guard had located a deceased person in a survival suit in the water, as well as a heavily damaged life boat with markings consistent with those on board the El Faro. Additional items located by Coast Guard aircrews within search areas include a partially submerged life raft, life jackets, life rings, cargo containers and an oil sheen Sunday, the Coast Guard said.

Assets involved in the search have included two Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplanes, two Air Force C-130 airplanes, one Navy P-8 airplane, a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, three commercial tugs, and the Coast Guard Cutters Northland, Resolute and Charles Sexton.

The El Faro is owned by TOTE Maritime, part of TOTE, Inc. and the Saltchuk family of brands.

“It is with heavy hearts this afternoon that we learn the Coast Guard has suspended their search for survivors,” said Anthony Chiarello, TOTE President & CEO.

“Our focus has been on supporting and caring for the family members, loved ones, and friends of those aboard the El Faro. The Coast Guard’s announcement will not change the support that TOTE extends to those affected by this tragic event: though the search may be over, their grief, and ours, is not.

“We appreciate there are many rumors and speculations surrounding this tragic event, as there are with any accident. For the sake of the families and loved ones, we ask that you continue to respect their privacy and wait for the investigation results,” Chiarello added.