Cargo Ship Sinks in Hurricane Joaquin, Crew Missing at Sea
Ocean Search for Missing Crew
A crew of 33 people were transporting 391 shipping containers when their ship lost power with the category 4 Hurricane Joaquin coming straight for them according to an associated press article by Jason Dearen and Jennifer Kay posted on ABC30.com.
By all reports, the ship was completely lost to the 140-mph winds and 50-foot waves.
Hope is still being held out that the crew, composed of 28 Americans and 5 Poland natives, have survived and will be found. The article mentioned above describes the search:
“We are still looking for survivors or any signs of life,” [Capt. Mark] Fedor said at a news conference near Miami. “We’re not looking for the vessel any longer.”
Three Coast Guard cutters, two C-130 aircraft, helicopters, commercial tugboats and a U.S. Navy plane were searching across a wide expanse of Atlantic Ocean near Crooked Island in the Bahamas. Fedor said a heavily damaged lifeboat from the El Faro was discovered, but it had no people or signs of life. The ship had two lifeboats capable of holding 43 people each.
One of the crew members perished, a body having been found in a debris field near the last known location of the container ship, according to the article:
The body, which Fedor said was “unidentifiable,” was discovered in a survival suit, but no other human remains or survivors were immediately located.
How Did a Cargo Ship End Up in the Middle of a Hurricane?
This tragedy occurred late last week when the El Faro was traveling from Jacksonville, Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Many, including family of the crew and some who work in the maritime business have questioned why this ship was even risking sailing during the hurricane.
A CNN article by Holly Yan reports how the voyage originally seemed safe, but shifting weather forecasts made it appear more and more perilous after the ship was en route:
The forecast changed significantly the day El Faro left port, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
That morning, Joaquin was forecast to be a tropical storm whose possible paths would not interfere with El Faro’s route. Near midday, the forecast was still for a tropical storm, but moving closer to the ship’s path.
At 5 p.m., the forecast showed that Joaquin would reach hurricane strength and that the ship’s path would take it straight into the track of the storm.
El Faro left the port of Jacksonville about 8 p.m. Tuesday, according to Marinetraffic.com.
Still, it appeared there was confidence the El Faro would stay clear of the tropical storm turned hurricane’s path until the ship unexpectedly lost power:
The president and CEO of the ship owner, Tote Services Inc., told The Associated Press that the captain had planned to move ahead of Joaquin — with room to spare.
“Regrettably, he suffered a mechanical problem with his main propulsion system, which left him in the path of the storm,” Phil Greene told the AP.
“We do not know when his engine problems began to occur, nor the reasons for his engine problems.”
NTSB Investigates El Faro Sinking
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the loss of the El Faro. The investigation should look into the causes of the ship’s power losses, the decisions and procedures that ultimately put it at sea in the path of a hurricane, and how to avoid such tragedies in the future.
The Coast Guard will participate in the NTSB investigation, however, it is separate from Coast Guard’s search and rescue efforts.
“We will be looking at factors involving safety on the El Faro so that this doesn’t happen again,” Dinh-Zarr said.
Dinh-Zarr says the large debris field poses a big challenge for investigations, as well as the depth of the ocean.
The depth where the Coast Guard says they believe the vessel went down is 15,000 feet.
Losing a ship, its cargo, and–most importantly–its crew is a terrible loss. To think it may have been preventable is worse. How did this happen? Why did this happen? Could it have been prevented? A report can be expected from the NTSB.
Crew and Families in the Tragedy
The names of the missing crew have not been released by the ship owner, but some family of crew members have broken the silence about their missing loved ones while awaiting news.
Among such family members is Katie Griffin, the wife of crew member Keith Griffin. Katie is pregnant with twins that the couple were going to find out the sex of when Keith returned home from the El Faro, according to a CNN article by Ashley Fantz and Javier De Diego:
Keith Griffin called Katie Wednesday night after he ate dinner. He said he’d be up late because the weather was getting bad. “He told me he loved me, and that’s the last time I heard from him,” she said.
“He’s a strong-willed guy,” she said. “He’d give you the shirt off his back. He was so excited to become a father.”
The AP article ABC30 shared quote from family of two women crew members, Mariette Wright and Danielle Randolph:
“This is torture,” said Mary Shevory, mother of crew member Mariette Wright.
Shevory, who had come to the union hall from her home in Massachusetts, said her 51-year-old 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.
Laurie Bobillot’s daughter, Danielle Randolph, is a second mate on the El Faro. Bobillot said she was trying not to lose hope.
“We’ve got to stay positive,” said Bobillot, of Rockland, Maine. “These kids are trained. Every week they have abandon-ship drills.”
WJXT reported on this story and shared the words of Barry Young, the great uncle of crew member Shaun Rivera:
“We have and still are to this moment holding on hope that just maybe he is one of those still floating out in the ocean and alive,” Young said. “Knowing him, he’s a fighter. He’s not a man that would lay down.”
Young, who is a minister, said he is speaking for the family so Rivera’s parents don’t have to.
“I have to rely on my faith. Even our pain, there’s a lesson to be learned in everything that happens,” Young said. “Don’t cease in praying. Our prayers are vital. Our prayers are meaningful. Our prayers matter.”
We are praying, Pastor Young, for the crew members, the Coast Guard members doing search and rescue, and the family and friends of the 33 people who were on that ship. We’re also praying the NTSB investigation prevents similar situations from occurring in the future.