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No sign of missing TOTE ship as Coast Guard suspends search overnight

Joseph Bonney, Senior Editor | Oct 02, 2015 1:42PM EDT

The U.S. Coast Guard has suspended its search for a missing TOTE Maritime roll-on, roll-off/container ship with 33 crew members that was caught in Hurricane Joaquin, near Crooked Island, Bahamas, and will resume the operation at first light on Saturday morning.

As night fell there was still no sign of the El Faro that was caught in the storm while en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico, from the Florida port of Jacksonville, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard said its watchstanders at Portsmouth, Virginia, received an Inmarsat satellite notification at approximately 7:30 a.m. EDT Thursday, advising that the ship had lost propulsion and had a 15-degree list.

 The crew reported the ship had previously taken on water, but that all flooding had been contained, the Coast Guard said.


The El Faro

The Coast Guard’s 7th District command center in Miami launched an HC-130 aircrew out of Clearwater, Florida, to search for the ship. 

Two Air Force C-180 Hurricane Hunter air crews also failed to locate the vessel.

At midday Friday, the Coast Guard was still trying to reestablish communication with the El Faro crew. 

“Our objective now is to get our assets as close to them as possible to reestablish communications,” a Coast Guard spokesman said. 

He added that the search was complicated by severe weather conditions and that the ship was believed to be near the hurricane's eye.

Separately from the El Faro, the Coast Guard rescued all 12 crew members from a 212-foot-long cargo ship that was abandoned Thursday 51 miles northwest of Haiti. The crew members were rescued by helicopter from a lifeboat in 10-foot swells and 35-knot winds, the Coast Guard said.

TOTE Maritime CEO Tim Nolan confirmed the loss of communication with the El Faro.

“There are a number of possible reasons for the loss of communications among them the increasing severity of Hurricane Joaquin,” he said in a statement.

 “TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico’s primary concern is for the safety and well-being of the 33 individuals on board. We are working to ensure clear and frequent communications with their families and loved ones as we learn more.”

The El Faro, formerly named the Northern Lights, is a U.S.-flag ship that operates in the domestic Jones Act trade between the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico.

 The 735-foot ship was launched in 1975 at Sun Shipbuilding in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Contact Joseph Bonney at and follow him on Twitter: @JosephBonney.

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