It's one month to the day that the cargo ship El Faro went missing, and the United States Navy believes it has located its wreckage. According to a statement released by the National Transportation and Safety Bureau (NTSB), the USNS Apache has been utilizing sonar technology in an effort to locate El Faro. At 1:36 pm ET on Halloween, Navy technicians discovered imagery of what is believed to be the wreckage of El Faro approximately 15,000 feet below the ocean's surface.
"To confirm the finding (of El Faro), specialists on Apache will use CURV 21, a deep ocean remotely operated vehicle, to survey and confirm the identity of the wreckage. This survey could begin as early as Sunday, November 1," the NTSB statement continued.
This could bring closure to the survivors of the 33 members of the crew that disappeared with El Faro on October 1 during Hurricane Joaquin. According to CNN, the U.S. Coast Guard had called off the search for survivors of El Faro on October 7 following the discovery of only one body among debris from the ship, with no trace of any of El Faro's lifeboats having been deployed. The likelihood of survivors of El Faro had been considered slim due to the fact that even had the ship's lifeboats been deployed, they most likely would not be able to withstand the impact of a storm of Joaquin's magnitude. The NTSB announced the same day that while the Coast Guard rescue efforts were ending, the U.S. Navy would begin salvage efforts with the hope of being able to piece together what went wrong on El Faro's ill fated journey.
The owners of El Faro have repeatedly stated that the captain had what they called "a sound plan" for avoiding the hurricane, which was expected to be the strongest Atlantic hurricane of 2015. There has been much debate whether or not the captain's choice to set sail was risky or if his crew just fell victim to poor circumstances. Hurricane Joaquin developed as a tropical storm on September 27, while El Faro left port September 30. On the morning of October 1, El Faro contacted the U.S. Coast Guard to inform them they had lost propulsion and were taking on water. A single ping was sent from Faro's emergency beacon, and all subsequent attempts at contacting the vessel were unsuccessful.
The wreckage believed to be that of El Faro is near the ship's last known location. In utilizing the CURV 21, the NTSB is hoping not only to confirm the wreckage's identity but to retrieve El Faro's voyage data recorder. The 790-foot wreckage, believed to be El Faro, reportedly appears to be intact and upright.
While the owners of El Faro maintain that the ship was seaworthy, former crew members told CNN in a previous interview that the vessel suffered from leaks and other structural problems. Some of the allegations include water leaking into the chief cook's room, rust, holes in the deck, a faulty drainage system, and repeated quick fixes for problems that needed significant repair. El Faro was reportedly set for retirement from the Caribbean route that sealed its fate and was to be retrofitted for service from the west coast to Alaska.
According to Reuters, the owners of El Faro, Tote Services, filed for protection in federal court on Friday under maritime law in an effort to deny responsibility for its loss. Tote Services has been sued by multiple families of the lost crew since El Faro's disappearance, facing the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars if litigation is successful in proving El Faro's lack of seaworthiness.
[Navy sonar technicians cover photo provided by US Navy / Getty Images]