Searchers on Sunday found a body from the missing cargo ship El Faro, along with a heavily damaged lifeboat, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor said Monday during a news briefing in Miami.
The search now is being focused on finding possible survivors from the ship, which carried 33 people, including four Mainers — all graduates of Maine Maritime Academy in Castine.
#BreakingNews @USCGSoutheast VIDEO Release: Lifeboat found in #ElFaro search area. pic.twitter.com/wzdd0OHls4
— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) October 5, 2015
The 790-foot ship was captained by Michael Davidson of Windham, a 1988 graduate of Maine Maritime. Its crew included Danielle Randolph, 34, of Rockland, a 2005 graduate; Michael Holland, 25, of Wilton, a 2012 graduate; and Dylan Meklin, 23, a 2010 graduate of Rockland High School who graduated from Maine Maritime just this spring, according to a release from the college Monday.
According to the release, the college cannot confirm that the graduates were aboard the El Faro when it went missing, but only confirmed that the individuals previously identified in the press were graduates.
Coast Guard officials believe the El Faro sank in water 15,000 feet deep in heavy weather brought upon by Hurricane Joaquin.
“We are not looking for the vessel any longer,” Fedor said. “We are looking for potential people in the water, lifeboats and life rafts.”
The body located by the Coast Guard was found in one of a number of floating survival suits and was not identified, said Fedor.
“We lowered a rescue swimmer to confirm the person was deceased and unidentifiable. … We needed to move quickly because there were reports of other survival suits as well as lifeboats and life rafts,” he said.
The 41-year-old steamship El Faro was equipped with 46 survival suits, as well as two “open-type” fiberglass lifeboats each certified to carry 43 people, and five life rafts designed to be launched manually over the side and to self-deploy, according to TOTE Maritime, which operates the ship and others that carry cargo between Jacksonville, Florida, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
One lifeboat was recovered, according to Fedor, but he said, “If the vessel did sink, and they were able to abandon ship, they would have had to abandon ship into a Category 4 hurricane,” Fedor said.
TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, which operates the El Faro, has declined to release the names of the 28 U.S. citizens and five Polish nationals aboard the ship.
The El Faro last communicated with the mainland at 7:30 a.m. Thursday after it crossed paths with Hurricane Joaquin during a routine run to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The captain reported at the time that the ship was beset by Hurricane Joaquin north of San Salvador Island in the Bahamas, had lost power and was listing at 15 degrees. He also reported the ship had been taking on water but that the flooding had been contained.
Family members of the El Faro crew gathered at the Seafarers International Union Hall in Jacksonville over the weekend.
Standing with Holland’s mother, Deb Roberts, Randolph’s mother, Laurie Bobillot, on Sunday read an email sent by her daughter Tuesday: “There is a hurricane out here and we are headed straight into it. Category three. Winds are super bad and seas are not great. Love to everyone.”
At least two graduates of Massachusetts Maritime Academy were aboard the El Faro, according to WCVB in Boston.
Keith Griffin of Winthrop, Massachusetts, and Jeffrey Mathias, 42, of Kingston, Massachusetts, were aboard the El Faro. Griffin’s wife, who is pregnant with twins, received an email Wednesday night saying conditions were stormy, according to WCVB.
Mariette Wright, whose mother is from Massachusetts, also is among the crew.
The Florida Times-Union continues to update a partial list of crew members confirmed to be on board the El Faro.
At noon Monday, TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico President Tim Nolan released a statement expressing sadness at the news that the El Faro apparently sank.
“We continue to hold out hope for survivors,” he wrote. “Our prayers and thoughts go out to the family members, and we will continue to do all we can to support them.”
Throughout Monday, two U.S. Air Force C-130 Hurricane Hunters, an MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter, three Coast Guard cutters and three tugboats provided by TOTE Marine combed two debris fields, one of about 300 nautical square miles in the area of the last known position of the El Faro, and a second about 70 square nautical miles in size about 60 miles north of the first.