El Faro captain's pleas for help before ship sank played at hearing

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Raw: NTSB Releases Undersea Video of El Faro

The captain of the doomed El Faro warned that the "clock was ticking" as his cargo ship took on water in an Atlantic hurricane that would eventually sink the vessel, a U.S. Coast Guard panel heard on Saturday.

SEE ALSO: US Coast Guard hearings to probe El Faro sinking in hurricane

Captain Michael Davidson pleaded for help as his ship, operated by Tote Services, sailed into the path of Hurricane Joaquin near the Bahamas, according to a recording of his final calls played at the hearing.

He told an on-shore call center of a "maritime emergency," saying water breached the hull, entering three holds.

Soon afterwards, contact with the ship was broken, and Davidson and 32 others were lost at sea. The sinking ranks as the worst disaster involving a U.S.-flagged cargo ship in more than three decades.

Recordings of the calls, made last October, were posted on the website of WOKV, a Jacksonville radio station.

Images from the wreck:

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El Faro cargo ship sinks (Bahamas Missing Ship)
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El Faro captain's pleas for help before ship sank played at hearing
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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The U.S. Coast Guard began hearings this week to investigate the sinking. Executives of Tote Services have testified that ship captains have full responsibility for deciding when it is safe to sail and on setting the route.

Tote officials said it was Davidson's call to depart Jacksonville with a storm brewing in the Atlantic, and said they were not closely monitoring the El Faro's cargo run to Puerto Rico as a tropical storm strengthened into Joaquin.

On the phone call to shore, Davidson sounds frustrated with an operator who asked him to spell the name of the boat, telling her "the clock is ticking."

In a voicemail to Tote's "designated person ashore" John Lawrence, Davidson said that he had had a "navigational incident" and a "pretty good list," referring the water in the holds, and that while the crew was safe he needed to talk to Lawrence.

Lawrence said that he had called Davidson back quickly, and the veteran Maine mariner sounded calm, according to WOKV. Lawrence then called the Coast Guard.

Family members of dead crew members have sued Tote in federal court.

After the 790-foot (241-meter) vessel was lost, the company bought a subscription for a bad-weather routing system for its ships, Tote President Philip Greene, testified this week.

The Coast Guard's hearings continue through next Thursday.

The investigation could result in civil charges. If evidence of criminal activity is found, the Coast Guard will turn it over to the Justice Department.

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