Jacksonville, FL - A container ship heading from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico with 33 crew members on board has apparently been caught in Hurricane Joaquin and is missing, according to the Coast Guard.
The 735-foot El Faro had lost propulsion and had a 15-degree list detected by the last satellite notification received by the Coast Guard, which was 7:30AM Thursday morning. TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, which owns and operates the ship, says their last communication with the crew was just a few minutes before then. The Coast Guard says the crew had reported the ship previously took on water, but that was contained.
Coast Guard Captain Mark Fedor says they’re unsure of the sequence of events- what caused the ship to lose power and at what point it started taking on water- and also unsure what the current status of the ship is.
“We are going to continue to be aggressive and try to again probe as close as we can to that hurricane,” says Fedor.
He says El Faro’s last known location was off Crooked Island, Bahamas, meaning the ship could be very close to the worst of Hurricane Joaquin. The search efforts through Friday evening spanned 850 square nautical miles, but are being temporarily suspended in overnight hours when it’s too dark. The ship is also heavily loaded- 391 containers on deck and 294 trailers and automobiles below deck.
“When you are disabled at sea, you basically are totally vulnerable to the sea state, and there is between 20 and 30 foot waves out there,” Fedor says.
A Coast Guard aircrew and Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircrews have launched in an effort to reestablish communication with the ship, but those efforts have been unsuccessful so far. We’re told air and sea efforts will continue through today, and the DoD is also providing resources, but they can only push so far without endangering the search crews.
“Absolutely pushing the operations envelope of what they’re supposed to fly,” Fedor says.
In a statement to WOKV, the President of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico says their primary concern is the safety of the crew, they’re communicating closely with the families of those on board, and “our thoughts and prayers are with the individual and their families.”
“TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico is working closely with the US Coast Guard and all available resources to establish communication by whatever means possible,” the statement says.
TOTE Maritime President Tim Nolan further says when El Faro left Jacksonville on 9/29, Joaquin was a Tropical Storm.
“There are a number of possible reasons for the loss of communications among them the increasing severity of Hurricane Joaquin,” Nolan’s statement says.
Joaquin was a Category 4 Hurricane at the time the ship went missing. The storm is now Category 3 and is forecast to continue to weaken. The 33 member crew includes 28 Americans and four Polish nationals. TOTE Maritime is declining to provide other personal information on the crew- including where they are from- citing privacy reasons and the ongoing search efforts.
The Coast Guard in Jacksonville is not involved in the search because of how far south the efforts are focused, rather the Coast Guard in Miami is the lead. JAXPORT has directed questions to TOTE Maritime.
This is a developing story, but we will bring you instant updates on Twitter, follow us @WOKVNews.