U.S. Navy Starts Salvage Operation for the Missing El Faro Cargo Ship

Reuters reports that a U.S. Navy search and rescue vessel was expected to leave port in Virginia for the Bahamas on Monday afternoon to search for an American cargo ship that sank during a hurricane earlier this month, a Navy spokesman said.

The El Faro departed Jacksonville FL and was en route to Puerto Rico, and is believed to have sank sometime after the morning of Oct. 1, when its captain told an employee with TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico (the ship’s owner) that the vessel had lost propulsion and taken on water.  The last known position of the vessel was directly in the path of Hurricane Joaquin, which was on its way to becoming a Category 4 storm with 140-mile-per-hour winds and 50-foot waves.  A nearly weeklong search by the U.S. Coast Guard turned up one body as well as a damaged lifeboat and other debris, and all 33 crew members are considered deceased.  The loss of the El Faro and her crew is the worst cargo shipping disaster involving a U.S.-flagged vessel since 1983. The El Faro was nearly 40 years old, and some ex-crew members had complained of leaks and cracks on the ship.

The Navy is sending an ocean tug vessel, the Apache, equipped with a “hydrophone” underwater listening device that can detect pulses emitted by the El Faro’s voyage data recorder, similar to the black box on airplanes. The search area is 100 square miles in water up to about 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) deep just off Crooked Island in the southern Bahamas, said Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman Chris Johnson. He added that the Apache will be in the search area until mid-November.

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