El Faro, cargo ship carrying 28 Americans, believed to have sunk

Coast Guard Spots Debris in Search for Missing Cargo Ship
Coast Guard Spots Debris in Search for Missing Cargo Ship

Authorities believe a cargo ship missing since Thursday with 33 crewmen aboard was lost at sea and believed to have sunk in the teeth of Hurricane Joaquin, NBC News has learned.

The U.S. Coast Guard will announce the developments at a 10 a.m. ET news conference Monday. The families of the crew, including 28 Americans, have been notified.

Over the weekend, a 225-square-mile "debris field" was discovered by crews looking for signs of a cargo ship.

The Coast Guard said it had scoured 70,000 square nautical miles of the Atlantic as the search resumed at daybreak Monday.

Three more Americans were identified among the 33 people on board the El Faro container vessel, which hadn't been heard from since Thursday. A distress call indicated it had lost power and was taking on water as it sailed through the Bahamas at the height of the hurricane.

South Florida men Jeremy Riehm, 46, and Steven Shultz, 51, were named by their families as among the missing, according to NBC affiliate WBBH. A third American was identified as Keith Griffin.

Shultz's mother told WBBH that she believes her son, a Merchant Marine for 30 years, is alive along with the rest of the crew, but is worried that supplies are running out.

Other missing American crew members include 51-year-old Mariette Wright, engineer Mike Holland and Second Mate Danielle Randolph.

Laurie Bobillot, Randolph's mother, said her daughter always knew a life at sea posed risks.

"She always said to me, 'If anything happens to me, Mom, when I'm out at sea, it's OK. I died doing what I want to do,'" Bobillot said.

The Coast Guard located the "debris field" of wood, cargo and other items on Sunday afternoon. Searchers have also spotted an oil sheen and found a life ring from the El Faro.

Owner TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico said a contracted tugboat and another of its ships had found a container that appears to be from the El Faro. But "there has been no sighting of the El Faro or any life boats," company president Tim Nolan said in a statement.

A C-130 search and rescue plane found the life ring approximately 120 miles northeast of Crooked Island on Saturday, about 75 miles north of the ship's last known location, the Coast Guard said. A helicopter crew recovered the life ring.

The 28 Americans as well as five Polish nationals were on the 735-foot vessel that was bound for San Juan, Puerto Rico, from Jacksonville, Florida, when it disappeared.

Officials said the search area was roughly the size of Michigan.

Barry Young, whose nephew Shaun Riviera is a crew member, said the vessel was equipped with state-of-the-art lifeboats and the increased visibility was giving relatives hope. "But even with a ship this big it's like finding a needle in a haystack," he told The Associated Press.

Phil Greene, president and CEO of TOTE Services, Inc., 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."

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Originally published