A U.S. Navy search team has found the wreckage of the cargo ship El Faro, more than a month after it tried to outrun hurricane Joaquin. The ship sits upright about 15,000 feet below the ocean surface east of the Bahamas, the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday.
The 790-foot ship went down Oct. 1, taking with it 33 crew members, as it made its way from Puerto Rico to Jacksonville, Fla., and crossed into the path of Hurricane Joaquin, which had developed suddenly into a category 4 hurricane.
The NTSB said the ocean-going Navy tugboat Apache found the El Faro on Saturday afternoon, using sonar gear towed behind the vessel. A deep-ocean remotely-operated vehicle was dispatched to confirm the find in waters far too deep to accommodate divers.
“The ship will certainly not be recovered; the ship is going to stay there. The containers are too deep to do any kind of recovery mission,” said NTSB spokesman Peter Knudsen. “If human remains are encountered, an attempt would be made to recover them.”
The El Faro’s captain called in before the ship went down to say its engines were dead. Captain Michael Davidson said the ship was listing, and taking on water.
NTSB investigators have said Davidson intended to pass 65 miles from the center of the storm.
The NTSB said locating the black box — called a voyage data recorder — on board would be the next step in determining what went wrong.
“We do know the ship, from the sonar-generated images, does appear to be upright, so that’s encouraging,” Knudsen said.
The U.S. Coast Guard searched the waters where the captain’s call was made for several days, finding only debris, a survival suit and one body. After the NTSB began its investigation it asked the Navy to help locate the craft.
The Apache arrived at the El Faro’s last know position and spent three fruitless days towing a pinger locator, hoping to pick up a signal from the data recorder.
When that failed, they dispatched a cable-controlled undersea recovery vehicle to scan the depths with its camera.
Families of crew members who went down with the El Faro have filed lawsuits against the ship’s owners. A lawyer for one family, Willie E. Gary, said at a news conference last month that, “The ship should have never left the docks.”
“The ship was not seaworthy,” he said. “We are going to do everything within our power to make sure that all the facts of this case [are] exposed.”
The El Faro was scheduled for a retrofitting so that it could begin service between the West Coast and Alaska, company officials have said. Both the El Faro and its sister ship were to be replaced in the Caribbean by two new ships.
A relative of crew member Lashawn Rivera told CNN the family wants Rivera’s remains brought home.
“We’re just hoping for closure totally on this issue,” Barry Young said.