A large ship found in deep water off the Bahamas is the lost freighter El Faro that sank with 33 crew members in a hurricane last month, U.S. authorities said on Monday.
The wreckage, in an upright position and intact on the ocean floor, was initially detected by a U.S. Navy salvage team over the weekend at a depth of nearly three miles (5 km). It was found in the vicinity of El Faro’s last known location off Crooked Island in the southeastern Bahamas, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said.
The Navy salvage tug Apache subsequently deployed a deep ocean remotely operated submersible, CURV-21, equipped with a camera to confirm the identity of the ship, officials said.
A salvage team will now seek to retrieve the ship’s voyage data recorder – similar to an airplane’s black box – which could contain vital clues for the NTSB-led investigation into what sank the El Faro.
The 790-foot (241 meter) cargo ship, disappeared on Oct. 1 on a regular weekly run between Florida and Puerto Rico after the captain reported losing propulsion and taking on water.
The crew included 28 Americans and five Poles and there are no known survivors of the worst cargo shipping disaster involving a U.S.-flagged vessel since 1983.
The wreck is sitting in such deep water – 2,500 feet (760 meters) deeper than the Titanic – that it is beyond the reach of divers.
The eight-foot-long (2.4 meter) CURV-21 is designed to operate in depths up to almost four miles (6 km) and has arms that can be remotely manipulated from the Apache via a fiber-optic cable, said Christopher Johnson, spokesman for the Naval Sea Systems Command.
The submersible is also equipped with another, smaller remotely operated vehicle called X-Bot that can be used to enter smaller spaces if necessary, Johnson added.
Claudette Riley, sister of El Faro crew member Mariette Wright, 51, welcomed the discovery of the wreck but said the potential recovery of the data recorder “brings a whole new wave of sadness.”
She said she was afraid of what it might reveal “about how scared they all must have been.”
Riley said she and her family were not optimistic the Navy would be able to recover the remains of crew members at such a depth.
The cargo ship’s owner, Tote Inc, is facing four lawsuits filed by relatives of the crew, alleging the ship was not seaworthy and charted a course too close to Hurricane Joaquin.
Tote filed for liability protection in a federal court in Florida on Friday, citing U.S. maritime law and saying the ship was “seaworthy and properly manned” and that the company bears no responsibility for its loss.
(By David Adams, Additional reporting by Susan Cooper Eastman in Jacksonville; Editing by Chris Reese and Tom Brown)