Coast Guard: Missing ship sank, 1 body found, search ongoing

Life Ring Found in Missing Ship Search

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- The Coast Guard said Monday that a U.S. cargo ship carrying 33 people that has been missing since it encountered high winds and heavy seas from Hurricane Joaquin sank and one body was found, but planes and ships will continue searching for the missing crew.

Capt. Mark Fedor said one large debris field was spotted near the last known location of the 790-foot container ship El Faro near the Bahamas. The body, which Fedor said was "unidentifiable," was discovered in a survival suit, but no other human remains or survivors were immediately located.

"We are still looking for survivors or any signs of life," Fedor said at a news conference near Miami. "We're not looking for the vessel any longer."

Three Coast Guard cutters, two C-130 aircraft, helicopters, commercial tugboats and a U.S. Navy plane were searching across a wide expanse of Atlantic Ocean near Crooked Island in the Bahamas. Fedor said a heavily damaged lifeboat from the El Faro was discovered, but it had no people or signs of life. The ship had two lifeboats capable of holding 43 people each.

See photos of the search for the missing ship:

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El Faro cargo ship sinks
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Coast Guard: Missing ship sank, 1 body found, search ongoing
El Faro, provided by TOTE Maritime Services
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)
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)
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)
#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
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Fedor said it appears the vessel lost power, making it extremely vulnerable to the Category 4 hurricane's 140-mph winds and 50-foot waves. It had 391 shipping containers aboard, weight that could make the ship top-heavy and prone to capsizing, he added.

"These are trained mariners. They know how to abandon ship. They know how to survive in the water," Fedor said of the crew. "Those are challenging conditions to survive."

The El Faro departed from Jacksonville, Florida, on Sept. 29, when Joaquin was still a tropical storm. The ship had 28 crew members from the United States and five from Poland, and it was heading to Puerto Rico on a regular cargo supply run when it ran into trouble. Contact was lost early Thursday.

The crew reported that the ship had lost power, had taken on water and was listing 15 degrees but that the situation was "manageable," in their last communication Thursday morning, according to ship owner TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico. They have not been heard from since.

Fedor said the National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard would launch an investigation into why the ship ventured toward the hurricane and how it sank.

Family members of the crew said Sunday that they were trying to remain optimistic as they awaited word of any developments at the Seafarer's International Union hall in Jacksonville. Some sobbed and hugged each other.

"This is torture," said Mary Shevory, mother of crew member Mariette Wright.

Shevory, who had come to the union hall from her home in Massachusetts, said her 51-year-old daughter was devoted to her job working on the ship.

"I'm just praying to God they find the ship and bring my daughter and everyone on it home," she said.

Laurie Bobillot's daughter, Danielle Randolph, is a second mate on the El Faro. Bobillot said she was trying not to lose hope.

"We've got to stay positive," said Bobillot, of Rockland, Maine. "These kids are trained. Every week they have abandon-ship drills."

The first sign of the ship, an orange life ring, was found Saturday about 120 miles (193 kilometers) northeast of Crooked Island. That was followed by floating debris and the oil sheen Sunday.

The company has defended its decision to authorize the voyage. Crew members were "equipped to handle situations such as changing weather," it said in a statement.

Phil Greene, president and CEO of TOTE Services, Inc., said the captain had been observing the weather patterns and discussed the weather as the El Faro passed its sister ship going in the opposite direction.

Greene said the El Faro has been in service for many years and was built to work in the rough seas off Alaska. "She is a sturdy, rugged vessel that was well maintained and that the crew members were proud of," he said.

RELATED: See photos of Hurricane Joaquin's path

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Hurricane Joaquin
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Coast Guard: Missing ship sank, 1 body found, search ongoing

NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly captured this photo on Oct. 2, 2015, from the International Space Station and wrote on Twitter, "Early morning shot of Hurricane #‎Joaquin‬ from @space_station before reaching ‪#‎Bahamas‬. Hope all is safe. #‎YearInSpace‬." (Photo via NASA)

IN SPACE - OCTOBER 1: In this handout from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Joaquin is seen churning in the Atlantic on October 1, 2015. Joaquin was upgraded to a category three hurricane early on October 1. The exact track has yet to be determined, but there is a possibity of landfall in the U.S. anywhere from North Carolina to the Northeast. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)
Major Hurricane Joaquin as seen by GOES East at 1900Z on October 1, 2015. (Photo via NOAA)
Joaquin's winds have increased to hurricane strength making the storm the third hurricane of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season. This image was taken by GOES East at 1315Z on September 30, 2015. (Photo via NOAA)
This image shows Tropical Storm Joaquin in the Atlantic Ocean on Sept. 30, 2015. (Photo via NOAA)
This image shows Tropical Storm Joaquin in the Atlantic Ocean north of Hispaniola, taken by GOES East at 1415Z on September 29, 2015. (Photo via NOAA)
Tropical Storm Joaquin on Sept. 29, 2015. (Photo via NOAA)
Tropical Storm #Joaquin =Max sustained winds 70 mph. Should become hurricane. Track still uncertain beyond Friday. http://t.co/MxTpVLrHXG
BREAKING: #Hurricane warning issued for central Bahamas. Hurricane watch issued including Nassau, Freeport. #Joaquin http://t.co/8pAQ9iQvxP
#Joaquin is still a #tropicalstorm for now. You can track the latest here --> http://t.co/CWPOQvTLcT @CNN http://t.co/le9bxXlyh1
Tropical Storm #Joaquin likely to become a hurricane today. Stays near Bahamas thru Friday, then heads north #nlwx http://t.co/VluYOAv88v
Tropical Storm Joaquin continues to strengthen. Forecast to become a hurricane today @foxandfriends @FoxFriendsFirst http://t.co/8qNEuurFDt
The track and intensity continue to be fine tuned, but details are still unclear on Joaquin's impacts. #PAWX #FOX43 http://t.co/YuofedVmzu
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