U.S. Navy deployed Fleet Ocean Tug USNS Apache (T-ATF 172) from Norfolk, Virginia, on October 19, to begin searching for wreckage from the missing U.S.-flagged container ship El Faro which went missing off the Bahamas on October 1 near the eye of the Hurricane Joaquin, and is presumed to have sunk.
The USNS Apache is deploying to a search area northeast of Crooked Island in the Bahamas island chain, the last known location of the vessel and its crew of 33.
The initial search area is 100 square miles, and water depth is estimated to be 15,000 feet across the expected search area. Transit to this search area is expected to take four-to-five days due to weather.
Apache is equipped with several pieces of underwater search equipment, including a voyage data recorder locator, side-scan sonar and an underwater remote operated vehicle. The Navy’s mission will be to first locate the ship and, if possible, to retrieve the voyage data recorder – commonly known as a black box. The tug’s crew will be joined by a team from the Navy’s Supervisor of Diving and Salvage.
The El Faro, a 790-foot roll on, roll off cargo ship owned by Sea Star Line and operated by TOTE Services, was en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico, from Jacksonville, Florida. At approximately 7:30 a.m. local time October 1, U.S. Coast Guard watchstanders were notified that the El Faro was disabled some 36 nautical miles northeast of Acklins and Crooked Islands, Bahamas.
Just minutes before the distress alerts, the El Faro master had called TOTE’s designated person ashore and reported that the ship was experiencing some flooding. He said the crew had controlled the ingress of water but the ship was listing 15 degrees and had lost propulsion.
The Coast Guard and TOTE were unable to reestablish communication with the ship. Twenty-eight U.S. crew members and five Polish workers were on board.
The Coast Guard located one deceased person in a survival suit in the water Sunday night. 32 remaining crew members, including the ship’s captain, are missing and presumed dead.