President Barack Obama on Wednesday offered his condolences to the families of 33 mariners who are presumed to have lost their lives after the cargo ship they were in apparently sank amid Hurricane Joaquin last week.
There were 28 Americans and five Polish nationals aboard the container ship the El Faro when the vessel lost communication last Thursday near the Bahamas as the hurricane battered the islands.
The U.S. Coast Guard announced Wednesday that the search for survivors would be suspended at sunset.
"Today, 28 American families — from Florida to Maine — and five Polish families are heartbroken. May they be comforted, in some small way, in knowing that they have the love and support of their neighbors, the merchant mariner community and the American people," Obama said in a statement.
"May God bless the men and women of the El Faro. May He comfort their families. And may He watch over and protect all those who serve at sea on behalf of us all."
Obama also thanked the searchers who battled difficult weather conditions to look for the container ship, and pledged that the government would do whatever is necessary to support a National Transportation Safety Board investigation.
"The captain and crew of the El Faro were Americans and Poles, men and women, experienced mariners and young seamen. They were beloved sons and daughters and loving husbands and fathers. They were dedicated engineers, technicians and a cook. And these 33 sailors were united by a bond that has linked our merchant mariners for more than two centuries — a love of the sea," Obama said.
"As their ship battled the storm, they were no doubt working as they lived — together, as one crew,” Obama said. "This tragedy also reminds us that most of the goods and products we rely on every day still move by sea. As Americans, our economic prosperity and quality of life depend upon men and women who serve aboard ships like the El Faro."
The El Faro left Jacksonville, Florida, for Puerto Rico on Sept. 29, when Joaquin was a tropical storm.
At around 7:30 a.m. Oct. 1, the crew notified the Coast Guard that it was disabled in the path of what was then a category 4 hurricane and it was listing at 15 degrees and had taken on water, the Coast Guard said.
The search, which included Coast Guard and Navy aircraft, covered more than 183,000 square nautical miles, the Coast Guard said. Searchers spotted one body in a survival suit on Sunday, officials said. Searchers have also spotted a partially submerged life raft, a survival suit, life jackets and cargo containers, the Coast Guard said.