Feds: Wreckage identified as ill-fated cargo ship El Faro

This undated photo provided by TOTE Maritime shows the cargo ship, El Faro. (TOTE Maritime via AP)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Federal investigators on Monday identified wreckage found 15,000 feet deep in the sea as that of the ill-fated cargo ship El Faro.

The National Transportation Safety Board said on Twitter that the survey of the deep-water site will continue as investigators continue seeking more information about the final moments of the ship and its crew.

The El Faro sank in about 15,000 feet of water Oct. 1 during Hurricane Joaquin with 33 people aboard, east of the Bahamas. No survivors were found.

Sonar indicates the ship landed upright, which could help crews recover the ship’s voyage data recorder, or “black box,” the NTSB said.

Crews sent down a remotely operated vehicle to confirm the wreckage after sonar images picked it up on Saturday. The U.S. Navy will continue searching the wreck site and debris field on Tuesday with the vehicle and its underwater video cameras.

The “black box” could hold a wealth of key information including audio from the bridge during key decision-making moments, and comments from the captain and others about the condition of the ship.

The El Faro’s captain had called in before the vessel disappeared saying the ship had lost its engine power during its voyage from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The captain, Michael Davidson, said the ship was listing, and taking on water. The ship also sent out three different distress signals.

So far, no bodies have been recovered. The Coast Guard spotted one body floating in a survival suit during its search in the days after the boat’s disappearance, but there have been no traces of others.

Deb Roberts of Jay, Maine, the mother of El Faro engineer Michael Holland, said the positive identification of the cargo ship “was like losing Mike all over again.” She had been trying to hold on to faint hopes that her son would be found alive.

“My head wants answers, but my heart wants to stick to my vision of hope, stick to my vision of him being out on an island out there,” Roberts said. “It does make it very difficult.”

Four families so far have filed lawsuits against the ship’s owner, Tote Marine, and its captain, Michael Davidson. They allege the company failed to maintain the aged ship properly, and made decisions to sail with a strong storm brewing offshore that imperiled the lives of the crew.

Tote Marine defended itself in a complaint filed last week in U.S. District Court. The company is asking a judge to release it from liability, or to contain it.

“Prior to commencement of the voyage and at all times, plaintiffs exercised due diligence to make the S.S. El Faro seaworthy in all respects and to equip and supply (the vessel) with suitable engines, machinery, apparel, appliances, personnel, and other appropriate and necessary equipment, all in good order and condition and suitable for their intended purposes,” the company’s attorneys wrote.

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Associated Press reporter Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.

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