Coast Guard to Suspend Search for Survivors of El Faro

Published Oct. 7, 2015

JACKSONVILLE — The U.S. Coast Guard will suspend its search for survivors of the cargo ship El Faro at sunset Wednesday, officials told the crew's family members.

The Coast Guard made the decision after searching six days for the 33 crew members of El Faro, a 790-feet commercial tanker that went missing last week during Hurricane Joaquin. The ship set sail on Sept. 29 and two days later reported that its engine had failed and that it was taking on water and listing 15 degrees.

Its last known location was 35 miles north of the Crooked Islands, in the Bahamas. Debris was recovered that suggested that the ship sank, the Coast Guard said.

Capt. Mark Fedor of the Coast Guard said the decision came after an exhaustive search. One helicopter searched 11 hours just on Sunday, and had to be refueled twice in-flight. Even Coast Guard engineers and cooks took to ship bridges to don binoculars and night vision goggles to help with the search. "I hope the families can take some small measures of peace in that," he said at a news conference Wednesday.

The news that the search would be suspended was announced at a meeting with families at the Seafarers International Union hall here. Some families reacted angrily at the news, so company officials ended the meeting quickly.

Schmiora Hill, whose cousin, Roosevelt Clark, was a crew member, said the decision was a terrible mistake.

"They haven't even found both the lifeboats," she said. "I think they're giving up too soon. I feel somebody, somewhere, somehow, is surviving."

She wondered why the company had not commissioned a submarine for a deep sea exploration to confirm whether the ship had sunk with its crew still aboard.

"It disgusts me," Hill said. "This gives us no closure."

Others sorrowfully said the decision was the right one. "I don't think they have a choice," said Mary Shevory of Brockton, Massachusetts. "It's futile at this point." Her daughter, Mariette Wright, 51, was one of the few women on board El Faro.

Unlike most relatives interviewed, Shevory had resigned herself days ago to the death of her daughter.

"She's in the sea," she said. "She died doing something she loved. She would not have wanted to have been buried in the ground. She would rather go down with the ship, so to speak."