Weather & Natural Disasters

El Fargo, Cargo Ship Carrying 28 Americans, Believed to Have Sunk

Erik Ortiz

A cargo ship missing since Thursday with 33 crewmen aboard was lost at sea and believed to have sunk in the teeth of Hurricane Joaquin, the U.S Coast Guard said Monday.

The families of the crew, including 28 Americans, have been notified. The Coast Guard will continue to search for survivors, said Coast Guard Captain Mike Fedor.

U.S. Coast Guard Captain Mark Fedor speaks to the media, at U.S. Coast Guard Station Miami, about the sinking of the 790-foot container ship El Faro on October 5, 2015 in Opa Locka, Florida.
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One body had already been found during the search for the ship Sunday, but it was "unidentifiable," Fedor said.

The 735-foot ship, the El Faro, was likely swallowed by the Category 4 hurricane at its last known location Thursday on the way to San Juan, Puerto Rico, Fedor said. The remnants of the ship are likely 15,000 feet underwater, he said.

On Sunday afternoon, a Coast Guard search vessel had found a 225-square-mile "debris field" of wood, cargo, other items and the human remains, which were in a survival suit.

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'Debris field' found in hunt for 28 missing Americans

The Coast Guard said it had scoured 70,000 square nautical miles of the Atlantic as the search resumed at daybreak Monday, but Fedor said the revelation that the ship likely sunk allows crews to "really hone in on where survivors might be." He said two debris fields close to the last known position of the ship would be searched Monday.

The Coast Guard would "focus more on potential people in the water," Fedor said. "We are not looking for the vessel any longer."

The El Faro left from Jacksonville, Florida, on Sept. 29 when Joaquin was just a tropical storm. The crew on the ship reported on Oct. 1 that the ship had lost power, was taking on water and was listing at 15 degrees. That was the last contact made with the ship.

"If vessel did sink on Thursday, and that crew was able to abandon ship they would have been abandoning ship in a category 4 hurricane. Those are challenging conditions to survive," Fedor said.

But he pointed out that the crew of the El Faro were trained mariners. "We're not going to discount somebody's will to survive."

"As the search for the El Faro mariners continues, our thoughts and prayers remain with them and their families. said Michael Sacco, the president of the Seafarers International Union, which represents American merchant mariners. "In this age when we are all accustomed to instant information and quick answers, it has been an agonizing wait these last few days."

Tim Nolan, president of TOTE Maritime, the ship's owner, said the "the entire TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico family is distressed that it now appears the El Faro sank at or near its last known position."

"We continue to hold out hope for survivors," he said.

Three more Americans were identified among the 33 people on board the container vessel.

South Florida men Jeremy Riehm, 46, and Steven Shultz, 51, were named by their families as among the missing, according to NBC affiliate WBBH. A third American was identified as Keith Griffin.

Shultz's mother told WBBH that she believes her son, a Merchant Marine for 30 years, is alive along with the rest of the crew, but is worried that supplies are running out.

Other missing American crew members include 51-year-old Mariette Wright, engineer Mike Holland and Second Mate Danielle Randolph. "