Search Launched for Cargo Ship That Went Missing During Hurricane Joaquin

by Elisha Fieldstadt /  / Updated 

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Searchers are looking for a cargo ship with 28 Americans on board that went missing during Hurricane Joaquin, as the storm that delivered fierce winds, flooding and torrential rain to the Bahamas moved away from the islands late Friday.

The El Faro, a 735-foot cargo ship bound for San Juan in Puerto Rico from Jacksonville, Florida, lost communication at around 7:20 a.m. Thursday when a distress call from the ship indicated it was taking on water, the U.S. Coast Guard and the maritime company that owns the ship, TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, said.

Image: Cargo ship El Faro missing in Hurricane Joaquin
The container ship El Faro, seen here in an undated photo, has gone missing in the area of Hurricane Joaquin near the Bahamas.TOTE MARITIME via EPA

The cargo ship has 28 Americans and five Polish nationals aboard, the U.S. Coast guard said. Searchers covered 850 square nautical miles on Friday and the effort will continue at first light Saturday, the Coast Guard said.

"There are a number of possible reasons for the loss of communications, among them the increasing severity of Hurricane Joaquin," company president Tim Nolan said in a statement Friday. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and their families," he said.

The hurricane was downgraded to a category 3 storm from a category 4 Friday night, and the hurricane had maximum sustained winds of 125 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. Joaquin was moving away from the Bahamas and was about 60 miles north-northeast of San Salvador at 11 p.m., and was moving northeast at around 10 mph.

When the El Faro left Jacksonville on Tuesday Joaquin was just a tropical storm. The storm quickly grew in intensity and was declared a Category 4 storm Thursday as it approached the Bahamas carrying winds of 130 mph.

The ship was last reported to have lost propulsion and was listing at 15 degrees. The last time the crew was in contact on Thursday, they said the vessel had taken on water but all flooding had been contained, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard sent a C-130 Hercules aircraft flying at low altitude to look for the vessel, and a "hurricane hunter" aircraft also kept an eye out for the ship, the Coast Guard said.

Surface vessels are also being sent to the area, and searchers are trying to probe as close to the storm as they can, the Coast Guard said.

As Joaquin pulled away from the Bahamas, all watches and warnings for those islands were discontinued, the National Hurricane Center said. But a tropical storm warning was issued for Bermuda Friday.

No deaths or injuries due to the slow moving Hurricane Joaquin had been reported, but communication with several sparsely populated islands in the Bahamas had been cut off, Capt. Stephen Russell, the director of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency, told The Associated Press. Thousands were without power and all schools were closed Friday, Weather.com reported.

Joaquin won’t likely become the first hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. this season, as the storm will probably veer away from the U.S., but the East Coast should brace for coastal flooding, according to the National Weather Service.

East Coast states could face "potentially unprecedented rainfall and life-threatening flooding," over the weekend, according to Weather.com.

A stretch from Charleston, South Carolina, to Washington, D.C. is expected to be deluged as a result of a different weather pattern called a "Rex Block," which is forecast to bring heavy rain to the area’s already-oversaturated grounds.

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