A cargo ship carrying 33 people vanished Thursday after sailing into the heart of Hurricane Joaquin in the Bermuda Triangle. The storm, a powerful Category 4 hurricane, is still tearing through the Caribbean and parts of the US.
The vessel, which took on water and lost power as it entered the storm, went missing near Crooked Island in the Bahamas.
On Sunday, the US Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force planes and helicopters were sent to look for the 224-metre ship across a broad expanse of the Atlantic Ocean around the island. The Coast Guard reported spotting life jackets, life rings, containers and other items in the ship’s search area, but they have not yet been able to confirm whether the debris is from the 790-foot El Faro.
The El Faro departed from Jacksonville, Florida on September 29, when Joaquin was still a tropical storm, with 28 crew members from the US 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 209km/h and waves of up to nine metres.
The crew reported it had taken on water and was listing 15 degrees but said it was “manageable,” according to its owner, TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico.
Rochelle Hamm, whose husband was aboard the vessel, said she was confused at the captain’s decision to sail through the storm.
“We [the families]were wondering why they shipped out even though they knew that the storm was coming. And why didn’t they re-route as well,” she told Mail Online.
But Laurie Bobillot, whose daughter, Danielle Randolph, is a second mate on the El Faro, said she had faith in the skill of the ship’s captain, Michael Davidson.
“This is a top-notch captain. He’s well-educated,” Bobillot said. “He would not have put the life of his crew in danger, and would not have out his own life in danger, had he known there was danger out there. He had the best intentions. He has a family too, and he wanted to go home to them too. That storm just came up way too fast.”
The storm has also crippled large areas of southeast US with relentless rain, and the National Weather Service warned of “potentially historic and life-threatening flooding” across the southeast of the United States.
“The threat for widespread, catastrophic flooding will continue across parts of the southeast through the remainder of the weekend, as tropical moisture feeding into an area of low pressure produces moderate to heavy rainfall across the region,” it said.
American President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in South Carolina, and ordered federal aid to bolster state and local efforts as flood warnings remained in effect for many parts of the East Coast through Sunday.