SEARCHERS using high-tech sonars have discovered the wreckage of a vessel believed to be the cargo ship El Faro, which went missing on 1 October with 33 crew during Hurricane Joaquin.
The US National Transportation Safety Board said the wreckage is some 15,000 feet below the water’s surface and its identity must be confirmed by sending down a remotely operated deep ocean vehicle.
The agency said experts aboard a specially equipped Navy vessel reported they located the wreckage deep underwater in the area of the ship’s last known position.
The wreckage was detected on the fifth of 13 surveying passes by the USNS Apache. The 790ft El Faro was reported missing east of the Bahamas, according to the Coast Guard.
The NTSB said investigators will now seek to survey the debris and confirm the identity of the wreckage.
It added that the wreckage spotted in the depths is “consistent with a 790ft cargo ship, which from sonar images appears to be in an upright position and in one piece”.
The announcement by the NTSB, which is investigating the disappearance, came after a ship it contracted for the search from the Navy, the USNS Apache, had spent days combing those waters.
“To confirm the finding, specialists on Apache will use CURV 21, a deep ocean remotely operated vehicle to survey and confirm the identity of the wreckage,” said the statement by Peter Knudson from the NTSB’s public affairs office.
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, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The captain, Michael Davidson, said the ship was listing and taking on water.
The Coast Guard had searched for the ship for days after El Faro disappeared in the storm, finding debris and one body in a survival suit.
The El Faro was scheduled for retirement from Caribbean duty and for new retrofitting for service between the West Coast and Alaska, company officials have said. Both the El Faro and its sister ship were slated to be replaced by two new ships. Aboard when it disappeared were five engineers from Poland, who were working on the retrofitting as the ship sailed to Puerto Rico.
NTSB investigators have said Davidson intended to pass 65 miles from the centre of the storm. Independent maritime experts have said that such a decision would be risky.
The statement said the coming phase of operations is expected to take up to 15 days to complete in ideal conditions.