Coast Guard units searching on Sunday for El Faro, a 735’x95’ TOTE Maritime containership with 33 on board that reported losing power Thursday night during its regular run from Jacksonville, Fla., to San Juan, Puerto Rico, have located additional objects in the water in the search area.
Life jackets, life rings, containers and an oil sheen have been located by Coast Guard aircrews. The objects have not been confirmed to be from the El Faro at this time. On Sunday evening, the Coast Guard reported via Twitter that search crews had identified a "225 sq. mi debris field of styrofoam, wood, cargo, other items." On Saturday, a Coast Guard MH-60 helicopter crew recovered a life ring confirmed to belong to the missing vessel approximately 75 miles northeast of the ship's last known position.
— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) October 4, 2015
By Sunday, search conditions had improved considerably, with unrestricted visibility and calm wind and sea conditions. Search efforts on Saturday were hampered by high seas, cloud cover and bad visisbility as Hurricane Joaquin accelerated away from Bahamas, a category 4 storm with winds up to 155 mph. On Sunday, the storm had been downgraded to a category 2 as it closed in on Bermuda. There has been no communication with the El Faro crew since Thursday’s distress message. Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor told reporters storm forces “could have destroyed their communications systems” since the ship’s last reported position near Crooked Island in the Bahamas.
On Thursday, watchstanders at the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area command center in Portsmouth, Va., received an Inmarsat satellite signal saying the El Faro “was beset by Hurricane Joaquin, had lost propulsion and had a 15-degree list,” the Coast Guard Seventh District in Miami said. The crew also reported the ship had taken on water, but flooding had been contained.
An HC-130 Hercules long-range patrol aircraft was launched from Clearwater, Fla., and two Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircrews also attempted to locate and reestablish communications with the ship.
The El Faro is a ro/ro containership, part of Tote’s Sea Star Line that provides regular service between Jacksonville and Puerto Rico. At their departure the captain and crew were monitoring what was then tropical storm Joaquin, the company said.
In a statement, TOTE officials said the company lost its communications with the ship around 7:20 a.m. Thursday. On board are 28 Americans — Captain Michael Davidson and three crew members hail from Maine — and five Polish nationals.
“TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico’s primary concern is for the safety and well-being of the 33 individuals on board. We are working to ensure clear and frequent communications with their families and loved ones as we learn more,” the company said.