[Updated] TOTE Vessel Missing in Hurricane

Source: Associate Press (YouTube)

Published Oct 2, 2015 6:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue crews are searching for the lost TOTE Maritime M/V El Faro container ship with 33 crew members on board, which has been reported to be caught in Hurricane Joaquin near Crooked Island, Bahamas.

The El Faro, a 735-foot roll on-roll off ro-ro cargo ship, was en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico from Jacksonville, Florida.  At approximately 7:30 a.m. Thursday, watchstanders at the Coast Guard Atlantic Area command center in Portsmouth, Virginia, received an Inmarsat satellite notification stating the El Faro was beset by Hurricane Joaquin, had lost propulsion and had a 15-degree list. The crew reported the vessel was taking on water, but in their estimation flooding had been contained. 

Two Air Force C-130 Hurricane Hunter aircrews attempted to locate and reestablish communications with the El Faro unsuccessfully. 

The ship, with 28 U.S. citizens and five Polish nationals on board, was headed to San Juan, Puerto Rico, from Jacksonville, Florida.

Chief Ryan Doss with the Coast Guard in Miami said, "We have had 20-foot seas reported so it's going to take a while to get into the area.”

"The low cloud cover makes satellite communications difficult," Doss said, while the winds and high seas made it hard to get close enough by sea or air.

"The storm is so bad and slow moving it's hard for our planes to get low enough to inspect the surface of the water."

TOTE has released the following statement: 

“On September 29, the El Faro, one of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico’s two ships departed Jacksonville en-route to San Juan Puerto Rico. At the time of the El Faro’s departure, the vessel’s officers and crew were monitoring what was then Tropical Storm Joaquin. As of 720am EST on Thursday October 1, TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico lost all communication with the El Faro. The US Coast Guard was immediately notified and since then we have been unable to reestablish communication. There are a number of possible reasons for the loss of communications among them the increasing severity of Hurricane Joaquin.

TOTE Maritime says its primary concern is for the safety and well-being of the 33 individuals on board. We are working to ensure clear and frequent communications with their families and loved ones as we learn more.

We have reached out to the families of those impacted and have established open lines of communication to provide them with timely updates. Our thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and their families.

TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico is working closely with the US Coast Guard and all available resources to establish communication by whatever means possible.”

The M/V El Faro is a 14,971-dwt ship which serves the Jones Act route between the U.S., Puerto Rico and Caribbean. The vessel was built in 1975 and underwent renovations in 2006. 

Hurricane Joaquin is an active tropical cyclone currently impacting the Bahamas. It is the tenth named storm, third hurricane and second major hurricane of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season.