Debris but no word on fate of Bahamas ship

The search for a US cargo ship that was lost during Hurricane Joaquin off the southeastern Bahamas has turned up clues but no word yet on the fate of the vessel or its 33-member crew.

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Aircraft and ships taking part in the search located a container that appears to have come from the 790-foot El Faro, according to the owner of the vessel, while the US Coast Guard said it has found a debris field that includes what appear to be pieces of container. They also spotted an oil sheen in the sea.

The latest finds follow the discovery of an orange life ring that was confirmed to have come from the El Faro a day earlier. Chief Petty Officer Bobby Nash said it was too early to come to any conclusion.

The fourth-day of searching across a wide expanse of the Atlantic Ocean near Crooked Island was helped by the first day of calmer weather now that Joaquin has left the Bahamas and was en route to Bermuda.

Authorities lost contact with the El Faro early on Thursday as the ship sailed through the Bahamas at the height of the storm as it sailed from its home port in Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Family members of the crew said they were trying to remain optimistic, but were also clearly in agony as they anxiously awaited word of any developments at the Seafarer’s International Union hall in Jacksonville. Some sobbed and hugged each other.

The El Faro departed from Jacksonville, Florida on September 29, when Joaquin was still a tropical storm, with 28 crew members from the United States and five from Poland.

The ship was heading to Puerto Rico on a regular cargo supply run to the US island territory when it ran into trouble.

It was being battered by winds of more than 210km/h and waves of up to nine metres.

The crew reported that the ship had lost power, had taken on water and was listing 15 degrees but that the situation was “manageable”, in their last communication on Thursday morning, TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, said. They have not been heard from since.