CASTINE, Maine — As the world waits to hear the fate of 33 crew members from the cargo ship El Faro, which reportedly sank Thursday off the Bahamas, the Maine Maritime Academy community is pulling together amid news that four of its graduates may have gone down with the ship.
Maine Maritime President William Brennan, in a statement issued Monday, verified the four Mainers included in reports about the missing ship are graduates: Capt. Michael Davidson of Windham, Class of 1988; Danielle Randolph, 34, of Rockland, Class of 2005; Michael Holland, 25, of Wilton, Class of 2012; and Dylan Meklin, 23, of Rockland, Class of 2015.
Brennan stressed, however, that the school could not verify that those four individuals were on the El Faro when it went missing and that only TOTE Maritime officials could do that. Brennan held a campuswide meeting at 4 p.m. to update students and staff about the sinking of the ship and the search effort.
Given the close-knit nature of people who work in the maritime transportation industry, the sinking is weighing on the Maine Maritime community regardless of who was on board, according to school officials.
Meanwhile, the family of Meklin scheduled a candlelight vigil for 6 p.m. Monday at the Fishermen’s Memorial at Rockland Harbor Park.
Meklin graduated in 2010 from Rockland District High School — now named Oceanside East High School — where an announcement was made Monday inviting students and staff to attend the vigil. Meklin played four years of football and four years of baseball at Rockland District High School and was a member of the National Honor Society.
Nathan Gandy, commandant of midshipmen at Maine Maritime and an alumnus, said about midday Monday that the school was trying to gather information about the incident and the lives on board.
“We all pay very close attention to what is going on with anything industry-related and certainly [involving the] safety and welfare of any crews,” Gandy said. “We don’t have a validated crew list at this point, but our focus is really the crew as a whole and the families of those crew members. They’re going through an extremely difficult situation right now, and our prayers and thoughts are with them.”
According to the Coast Guard, one body has been found amid debris from the ship, but it has not been recovered or identified. The Coast Guard has received multiple reports of survival suits floating in the water as well as life rafts and lifeboats, but still is looking for signs of possible survivors.
Gandy said that the maritime transportation industry is an inherently dangerous trade, but that Maine Maritime and other similar schools conduct extensive training for their students that includes assessing and mitigating risks and open-ocean survival techniques. Licensed mariners are required to go through refresher courses every five years, he added.
This past summer, students on the annual Maine Maritime training cruise aboard the ship State of Maine also received ocean survival training in large wave-generation pool at the National Maritime College of Ireland near Cobh.
“The ocean is a hostile environment on its good days,” Gandy said. “We have to be vigilant. We have to be up-to-date with our training and our emergency procedures.”
Professors at Maine Maritime have been talking Monday to students in class about sinking situations and the searches that result. Maine Maritime officials said the school’s counseling office had been holding open hours Monday to talk to any students who wanted to stop in and that additional hours would be scheduled as needed.
“There is a high level of anxiety for the students,” Gandy said. “We’re trying to get as much information as we can, but it always is going to be slow, and a search like this is a long process.”
BDN writer Stephen Betts contributed to this report.