El Faro reported 'hull breach' before sinking in hurricane

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El Faro Cargo Ship Disappeared 20 Miles Hurricane


The captain of the U.S. cargo ship El Faro reported "a hull breach" and said a hatch had blown open before the vessel sank off the Bahamas in a hurricane earlier this month, the National Transportation Safety Board said on Tuesday.

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In a recorded satellite phone call Captain Michael Davidson told the ship's owner he had "a marine emergency" after taking on water in one of the holds, the NTSB said in an update on its two-week-old investigation of the sinking.

It said the captain also reported that the ship had lost its main propulsion unit and that engineers could not get it restarted.

The El Faro and its 33 mostly American crew members disappeared on Oct. 1 after sailing into the path of Hurricane Joaquin while en route from Jacksonville, Florida, to Puerto Rico in the worst cargo shipping disaster involving a U.S.-flagged vessel since 1983.

The ship's owner, New Jersey-based Tote Inc, has previously said the loss of propulsion is likely what doomed the ship as it was engulfed by high seas whipped up by Joaquin.

See photos related to the tragedy:

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El Faro cargo ship sinks (Bahamas Missing Ship)
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El Faro reported 'hull breach' before sinking in hurricane
In this photograph released by the National Transportation Safety Board, the damaged stern of the sunken freighter El Faro is seen on the seafloor, 15,000-feet deep near the Bahamas. The freighter sunk on Oct. 1, 2015, after losing engine power and getting caught in a Category 4 hurricane. All 33 crew members aboard were lost at sea. Federal investigators are considering launching another search of the wreckage of a freighter. (National Transportation Safety Board via AP)

In this photograph released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, the detached navigation bridge of the sunken freighter El Faro is seen on the seafloor, 15,000-feet deep near the Bahamas. The freighter sunk on Oct. 1, 2015, after losing engine power and getting caught in a Category 4 hurricane. All 33 crew members aboard were lost at sea. Federal investigators are considering launching another search of the wreckage of a freighter. (National Transportation Safety Board via AP)

In this photograph released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, the top of the detached navigation bridge of the sunken freighter El Faro is seen on the seafloor, 15,000-feet deep near the Bahamas. The freighter sunk on Oct. 1, 2015, after losing engine power and getting caught in a Category 4 hurricane. All 33 crew members aboard were lost at sea. Federal investigators are considering launching another search of the wreckage of a freighter. (National Transportation Safety Board via AP)
In this photograph released by the National Transportation Safety Board, the damaged stern of the sunken freighter El Faro is seen on the seafloor, 15,000-feet deep near the Bahamas. The freighter sunk on Oct. 1, 2015, after losing engine power and getting caught in a Category 4 hurricane. All 33 crew members aboard were lost at sea. Federal investigators are considering launching another search of the wreckage of a freighter. (National Transportation Safety Board via AP)
El Faro, provided by TOTE Maritime Services
Deborah Dyer, right, is hugged by Judy Marzolf prior at vigil of hope held at Maine Maritime Academy for the missing crew members of the U.S. container ship El Faro, Tuesday evening, Oct. 6, 2015, in Castine, Maine. Dyer's nephew, Dylan Meklin, of Rockland, Maine, is one of the four Maine Maritime Academy graduate who are missing after the El Faro vanished near the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Carla Newkirk, left, hugs Terri Davis during a candlelight vigil for the sunken cargo ship El Faro, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Jacksonville, Fla. U.S. safety investigators say the U.S. Navy soon will set out to find El Faro, sunk in Hurricane Joaquin. Newkirk is the daughter of missing crew member Larry Davis while Terri is Davis' wife. (Will Dickey/The Florida Times-Union via AP) 
Evangelist Barbara Ward, center, speaks during a candlelight vigil for the sunken cargo ship El Faro, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Jacksonville, Fla. U.S. safety investigators say the U.S. Navy soon will set out to find El Faro, sunk in Hurricane Joaquin. (Will Dickey/The Florida Times-Union via AP)
Maine Maritime Academy students bow their heads during a vigil of hope for the missing crew members of the U.S. container ship El Faro, Tuesday evening, Oct. 6, 2015, in Castine, Maine. The Coast Guard has concluded the vessel sank near the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin. Four graduates of Maine Maritime Academy are missing. They are Capt. Michael Davidson of Windham, Maine, Michael Holland, 25, of Wilton, Maine, Danielle Randolph, 34, of Rockland, Maine, and Dylan Meklin, also of Rockland. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
ROCKLAND, ME - OCTOBER 5: John Gerry, a cousin of Dylan Meklin, is overcome with emotion after a candlelight vigil in honor of Meklin at the Fishermen's Memorial in Rockland Harbor Monday, October 5, 2015. Meklin, along with three other Mainers and 29 other souls, were aboard El Faro, a cargo ship which is believe to have sunk in the path of Hurricane Joaquin. 'I played football with him and everything,' said Gerry. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
ROCKLAND, ME - OCTOBER 5: A candlelight vigil was held at the Fishermen's Memorial in Rockland Harbor for Dylan Meklin, 23, of Rockland, and Danielle Randolph, 34, also of Rockland, Monday, October 5, 2015. The pair are among four Mainers and 29 other souls who were aboard El Faro, a cargo ship which is believe to have sunk in the path of Hurricane Joaquin. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
Maine Maritime Academy students attend a vigil of hope for the missing crew members of the U.S. container ship El Faro, Tuesday evening, Oct. 6, 2015, in Castine, Maine. The Coast Guard has concluded the vessel sank near the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin. Four graduates of Maine Maritime Academy are missing. They are Capt. Michael Davidson of Windham, Maine, Michael Holland, 25, of Wilton, Maine, Danielle Randolph, 34, of Rockland, Maine and Dylan Meklin, also of Rockland. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
CASTINE, ME - OCTOBER 6: Travis Emerson, right, comforts Alexi Galley after a vigil for the crew members of the cargo ship El Faro, which is believed to have sunk off the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin. Four of the ship's crew, Capt. Michael Davidson of Windham, Michael Holland of Wilton, Danielle Randolph of Rockland and Dylan Meklin, both of Rockland, are all graduates of Maine Maritime Academy. (Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
In this Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015 photo made from video and released by the U.S. Coast Guard, a Coast Guard crew member is moved back to the helicopter after investigating a life boat, that was found from the missing ship El Faro. On Monday, four days after the ship vanished, the Coast Guard concluded it sank near the Bahamas in about 15,000 feet of water. One unidentified body in a survival suit was spotted, and the search went on for any trace of the other crew members. The search continued Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP)
In this Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, photo, made from video and released by the U.S. Coast Guard, a Coast Guard Air Station Miami MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew investigates a life boat that was found from the missing ship El Faro. On Monday, four days after the ship vanished, the Coast Guard concluded it sank near the Bahamas in about 15,000 feet of water. The search continued Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP)
In this Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015 photo made from video and released by the U.S. Coast Guard, a Coast Guard crew member investigates a life boat, that was found from the missing ship El Faro. On Monday, four days after the ship vanished, the Coast Guard concluded it sank near the Bahamas in about 15,000 feet of water. One unidentified body in a survival suit was spotted, and the search went on for any trace of the other crew members. The search continued Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP)
U.S.C.G. Cpt. Mark Fedor, right, and Lt. Cmd. Gabe Somma brief the media on the search for survivors of the cargo ship El Faro that sank during Hurricane Joaquin at the Coast Guard Station at the Opa Locka Airport on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. (Walter Michot/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
OPA LOCKA, FL - OCTOBER 05: U.S. Coast Guard Captain Mark Fedor (L) and Lt. Commander Gabe Somma walk away after speaking to the media, at U.S. Coast Guard Station Miami, about the sinking of the 790-foot container ship El Faro on October 5, 2015 in Opa Locka, Florida. The Coast Guard has concluded that the ship most likely sank after encountering Hurricane Joaquin last Thursday, but Coast Guard cutters and aircraft and a U.S. Navy plane continued searching for the 33 missing crew members. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Capt. Jeffrey Dixon, Commanding officer U.S. Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville, left, walks with Phil Greene, second from left, President & CEO TOTE Services, operator of El Faro, the missing ship, walk into a meeting with families of the crew Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Jacksonville, Fla. Family and friends of the crew gathered at the local Seafarers union hall to hear updates from officials with the Coast Guard and TOTE, Inc., the company that owns and operates the ship. (Bob Mack/The Florida Times-Union via AP)
Phil Greene, President of TOTE Services & CEO, left, and Tim Nolan, President of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, right, listen as Anthony Chiarello, President & CEO, TOTE, Inc. speaks about about the missing cargo ship El Faro outside the Seafarer's International Union hall in Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Authorities lost contact with the El Faro early Thursday as the ship sailed through the Bahamas at the height of the Hurricane Joaquin storm as it sailed from its homeport in Jacksonville, Fla., to San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Bruce Lipsky/The Florida Times-Union via AP) 
Families have gathered at the Seafarers Union Hall Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, in Jacksonville, Fla., waiting for news on the crew of 33 aboard the missing cargo ship El Faro. The ship has not been heard from since it lost power and was taking on water in seas churned up by Hurricane Joaquin. (Bruce Lipsky/Florida Times-Union via AP)
Rear Adm. Scott Buschman, commander of the Coast Guard 7th District, receives an update brief for the missing cargo ship El Faro at the Coast Guard 7th District in Miami, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. The ship was heading from Jacksonville, Fla, to San Juan, Puerto Rico when it was battered by waves. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Jon-Paul/U.S. Coast Guard via AP)
Map locates Crooked Island, in the Bahamas, where a missing cargo ship was last seen; 1c x 2 inches; 46.5 mm x 50 mm;
#BreakingNews @USCGSoutheast C-130 just lands, reports 225 SqMi debris field of styrofoam, wood, cargo, other items. http://t.co/4us2EP4L4C
#BreakingNews: @USCGSoutheast MH-60 refueling at sea as search crews cover 70K+ sqNM in the search for 790' #ElFaro http://t.co/6ICMmxraO2
#BreakingNews @USCGSoutheast Video Release: Recovery of #ElFaro life ring. http://t.co/X0RfPsheTM
#BreakingNews: @USCGSoutheast search for #ElFaro has covered more than 30K sqNM. http://t.co/hBlBWAl0GK http://t.co/9H4PVf4wyM
#BreakingNews @USCGSoutheast aircrew searching IVO #hurricane #Joaquin for container ship w/ crew of 33. http://t.co/cpEfzRi5G1
Family, union and company officials wait outside the Seafarer's International Union hall, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, in Jacksonville, Fla., as an intensive search resumed Sunday in the southeastern Bahamas for a U.S. cargo ship with 33 people on board. The ship has not been heard from since it lost power and was taking on water as it was battered in fierce seas churned up by Hurricane Joaquin. (AP Photo/Jason Dearen)
Mary Shevory, talks about her daughter Maryette Wright's love of the sea in Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Wright was a crew member of the missing cargo ship El Faro. Authorities lost contact with the El Faro early Thursday as the ship sailed through the Bahamas at the height of the Hurricane Joaquin storm as it sailed from its homeport in Jacksonville, Fla., to San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Bruce Lipsky/The Florida Times-Union via AP) 
As the sun begins to set as television crews set up their lights while waiting for an update on the crew members aboard the missing cargo ship El Faro outside the Seafarer's International Union hall in Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Authorities lost contact with the El Faro early Thursday as the ship sailed through the Bahamas at the height of the Hurricane Joaquin storm as it sailed from its homeport in Jacksonville, Fla., to San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Bruce Lipsky/The Florida Times-Union via AP)
This satellite image taken Friday, Oct. 2, 2015 at 8:45 a.m. EDT, and released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows Hurricane Joaquin of the Bahamas. The Category 4 storm ripped off roofs, uprooted trees and unleashed heavy flooding as it hurled torrents of rain across the eastern and central Bahamas on Friday, and the U.S. Coast Guard said it was searching for a cargo ship with 33 people aboard that went missing during the storm. (NOAA via AP)
Petty Officer 1st Class Antonio Lockhart, watchstander at Coast Guard 7th District Command Center, updates search information regarding the missing cargo ship El Faro at the Coast Guard 7th District Command Center in Miami, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. The ship was heading from Jacksonville, Fla, to San Juan, Puerto Rico when it was battered by waves. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Jon-Paul/U.S. Coast Guard via AP)
Wind and rain from Hurricane Joaquin affect Nassau, Bahamas, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. Hurricane Joaquin dumped torrential rains across the eastern and central Bahamas on Friday as a Category 4 storm. (AP Photo/Tim Aylen)
The sky is overcast on south Eleuthera island, Bahamas, early Friday, Oct. 2, 2015 as Hurricane Joaquin dumps torrential rains across the eastern and central Bahamas as a Category 4 storm. Streets were largely deserted as people remained hunkered down on the island of Eleuthera, which was bracing for heavy winds later Friday. (AP Photo/Ben Fox)
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According to the NTSB, electronic distress alerts were received by the U.S. Coast Guard from three separate sources on board El Faro but the Coast Guard never had direct voice communications with the ship.

It was not clear if the hull breach was directly related to the ship's loss of propulsion, perhaps due to water flooding the engine room and short-circuiting the ship's generators.

The El Faro had successfully completed its most recent inspections and surveys by the Coast Guard and the American Bureau of Shipping "meeting all rules and regulations," the NTSB said in Tuesday's update.

It said Tote told investigators that El Faro was undergoing "modifications" by welders and machinists prior to redeploying to the U.S. West Coast.

A boiler service company had recommended service to both the ship's boilers during an upcoming drydock that had already been scheduled for Nov. 6, the NTSB added.

Tote has previously stated that the ship was undergoing engine room work, including during the last voyage but that it was unrelated to the propulsion system.

On Monday, a Navy salvage vessel hired by the NTSB left Virginia for the Bahamas to try to recover the ship's voyage data recorder, similar to the black box on airplanes, officials said.

The day after setting sail on the doomed voyage the captain emailed a company safety official that he planned to take a route south of the predicted path of the hurricane and would pass about 65 miles (105 km) from its center, the NTSB said.

U.S. forecasters issued an advisory early on Oct. 1 predicting seas of 30 feet (9 meters) with sustained winds increasing to 121 miles (195 km) per hour as the El Faro approached the wall of the eye of the hurricane, the NTSB noted.

According to electronic alert data sent five hours later by the El Faro, the ship's last reported position was about 20 miles (32 km) from the edge of the eye of the hurricane, the NTSB said.

(Reporting by David Adams; Editing by Tom Brown)

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