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Missing El Faro Ship: Families Cling to Hope as Search Continues

by Erik Ortiz and Rehema Ellis /  / Updated 

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The stepfather of one of 28 Americans missing after a cargo ship sunk during Hurricane Joaquin told NBC News that he was refusing to give up hope.

The Rev. Robert Green's stepson LeShaun Rivera was a merchant seaman and cook aboard the ill-fated El Faro which vanished Thursday. Green believes the 32-year-old father of three is hanging tough.

"I believe he's fighting with everything he has in him," Green said Monday. "If there's a fight to be fought, he's fighting it. He is a fighter."

Related: Missing El Faro Is Believed to Have Sunk

Rivera, of Jacksonville, Florida, was one of 33 people aboard the El Faro, which lost contact off the coast of the Bahamas during the high winds and heavy seas brought by Joaquin. The ship was on a routine trip carrying supplies from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

On Monday, the Coast Guard said they discovered one unidentified body in a survival suit, after scouring a 300-square-mile debris field in the Atlantic that included a heavily damaged lifeboat.

The search was being relaunched at daybreak on Tuesday.

The ship had two lifeboats that could hold 43 people each, as well as five life rafts that could hold 17 people each, officials said.

The hope, family members say, is that those aboard were able to abandon ship in time.

Green said Rivera has three young children and a fourth on the way with his fiancee, and they're all praying for the crew's safe return. His stepson has been doing the run from Jacksonville to San Juan for about two years, he added.

"We're going to hold on to that belief that miracles do happen, but right now, we're not even at the point of a miracle," Green said. "We're at the point of just rescue."

Related: Lost El Faro Ship Mystery: How Does a Large Vessel Vanish?

Also spotted in the debris were an oil sheen, cargo containers, life jackets and life rings, authorities said.

Phil Greene, president and CEO of ship owner Tote Services Inc., said Monday that the captain had a plan to sail ahead of the hurricane.

Greene said the captain, whose name has not been released, had conferred with the El Faro's sister ship — which was returning to Jacksonville along a similar route — and determined the weather was good enough to go forward.

"Regrettably he suffered a mechanical problem with his main propulsion system, which left him in the path of the storm," Greene told The Associated Press. "We do not know when his engine problems began to occur, nor the reasons for his engine problems."

The search for survivors was expected to continue overnight Monday, the Coast Guard said, as two HC-130 Hercules airplanes, two Navy airplanes and several ships have joined in.

Green said no one wants to give up on the crew just yet.

"That is our family that is at sea, and we want to make sure that we bring them home in whatever state that God decides that we bring them home," Green said. "And that's what's important right now."

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