US Navy salvage team seeking to confirm wreckage of sunken El Faro

Searchers May Have Found Wreckage of El Faro

MIAMI (Reuters) -- A U.S. Navy salvage team was preparing on Sunday to launch a remotely operated submersible to confirm that wreckage discovered near the Bahamas was that of the cargo ship El Faro, lost in a hurricane last month along with its 33 crew members.

The team is seeking to retrieve the ship's voyage data recorder, similar to an airplane's black box, as part of an investigation into what caused the ship to sink, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). It was the worst maritime accident involving a U.S.-flag vessel since 1983.

PHOTOS: Families mourn for the missing crew members

El Faro cargo ship sinks
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US Navy salvage team seeking to confirm wreckage of sunken El Faro
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.
#BreakingNews: @USCGSoutheast MH-60 refueling at sea as search crews cover 70K+ sqNM in the search for 790' #ElFaro
#BreakingNews @USCGSoutheast Video Release: Recovery of #ElFaro life ring.
#BreakingNews: @USCGSoutheast search for #ElFaro has covered more than 30K sqNM.
#BreakingNews @USCGSoutheast aircrew searching IVO #hurricane #Joaquin for container ship w/ crew of 33.

The cargo ship's owner Tote Inc. has been hit with four lawsuits filed by relatives of the crew, alleging the ship was not seaworthy and should have changed course to avoid Hurricane Joaquin.

Tote filed for protection in a federal court in Florida on Friday, citing U.S. maritime law and saying the ship was "seaworthy and properly manned" and that the company bears no responsibility for its loss.

As El Faro left port in Jacksonville, Florida, on its way to Puerto Rico, the captain set the ship on what appeared to be a collision course with the powerful storm, a decision that has baffled shipping experts.

The crew included 28 Americans, and five Poles.

It was unclear on Sunday what plans were in place to recover the bodies of the crew. A week-long search and rescue mission launched by the U.S. Coast Guard after the ship went missing found only one body.

Some relatives of the crew complained that not enough was being done to find their loved ones after the Coast Guard called off its search.

Hill is a cousin of Roosevelt Clark, a veteran seaman who was on board El Faro.

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The NTSB said in a statement on Saturday that the wreckage consistent with the 790-foot (241 meters) El Faro was found using sonar equipment, lying upright and intact at a depth of almost 3 miles, complicating the search.

The submersible, known as CURV-21, is equipped with a video camera and could be launched as soon as Sunday, the NTSB said.

The voyage data recorder attached to the aft of the ship's bridge is designed to be removable by a remotely controlled device, according to shipping experts. It preserves the last 12 hours of engine orders and communications from the bridge and could provide vital clues as to why the ship sank.

Tote has said the loss of propulsion likely resulted in the ship sinking as it was unable to steer clear of high seas whipped up by Joaquin.

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