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Navy Will Use Sonar to Search for Sunken Cargo Ship El Faro

by Phil Helsel /  / Updated 

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The U.S. Navy, equipped with side-scan sonar and remotely operated vehicles, will search for the sunken cargo ship El Faro, which was lost last week during Hurricane Joaquin near the Bahamas.

There were 33 people — 28 of them Americans — aboard El Faro when it lost contact near the Bahamas on Oct. 1.

The Coast Guard suspended its search for survivors in the disaster at sunset Wednesday, saying it was unlikely anyone would be found alive.

The Navy search for the sunken ship is expected to begin within the next several weeks, National Transportation Safety Board Vice-Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr told reporters Thursday.

Finding the sunken ship could lead to the recovery of the voyage data recorder, which could yield critical information as to what happened before the 790-foot cargo ship sank.

El Faro left Jacksonville, Florida, bound for Puerto Rico on Sept. 29, when Joaquin was a tropical storm.

At around 7 a.m. Oct. 1, the master of the ship spoke with a "designated person ashore" and said El Faro had lost propulsion, had taken on water and was listing at 15 degrees, Dinh-Zarr said.

The Coast Guard said the ship was left in the path of Hurricane Joaquin, which by Oct. 1 grew to a Category 4 hurricane.

RELATED: Who Are the Americans on Board?

El Faro’s sister ship, El Yunque, arrived Thursday in Jacksonville from San Juan, NBC station WTLV reported. El Yunque is nearly identical to the El Faro, which will help investigators as they probe the accident, Dinh-Zarr said.

Investigators have also interviewed the master of El Yunque, which passed by in visual contact with El Faro at a distance of "a few miles" as El Faro was headed toward Puerto Rico. "He gave us a lot of information about both ships," Dinh-Zarr said.

Five of those aboard El Faro were graduates of the Maine Maritime Academy, in Castine, Maine, the training institution said Thursday.

"Our hearts are heavy. The outpouring of fellowship and support of the entire maritime family is felt here in Castine," the academy said in a statement.

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