Coast Guard: El Faro Ship Had Engine Trouble Near Eye Of Hurricane

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(CNN) — The missing container ship El Faro lost propulsion and was disabled at sea, a Coast Guard official said Tuesday, leaving it floundering in the path of Hurricane Joaquin.

The U.S. Coast Guard has concluded that El Faro, which was carrying 28 Americans and five Polish nationals, sank last week. It was headed from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, when it disappeared near the Bahamas.

The president and CEO of the ship owner, Tote Services Inc., told The Associated Press that the captain had planned to move ahead of Joaquin — with room to spare.

“Regrettably, he suffered a mechanical problem with his main propulsion system, which left him in the path of the storm,” Phil Greene told the AP.

“We do not know when his engine problems began to occur, nor the reasons for his engine problems.”

Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor said El Faro lost propulsion Thursday.

“They were disabled right by the eye of Hurricane Joaquin,” Fedor told CNN’s “New Day” on Tuesday.

“If they were able to abandon ship and put on their survival suits, they would have been abandoning ship into that Category 4 hurricane. So you’re talking about 140-mile-an-hour winds, 50-foot seas, zero visibility. It’s a very dire situation, a very challenging situation even for the most experienced mariner.”

Lots of debris, but no survivors so far

The massive search in the Caribbean Sea has yielded a 225-square-mile debris field, but no ship and no survivors.

CNN’s Eliott C. McLaughlin accompanied a Coast Guard team on a daylong search flight Monday. The Coast Guard HC-130 covered more than 1,000 square miles of ocean without spotting anything related to the ship, McLaughlin said.

Family members told CNN affiliate WFOX/WSVN they questioned why the ship sailed into what was then a tropical storm.

The forecast changed significantly the day El Faro left port, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.

That morning, Joaquin was forecast to be a tropical storm whose possible paths would not interfere with El Faro’s route. Near midday, the forecast was still for a tropical storm, but moving closer to the ship’s path.

At 5 p.m., the forecast showed that Joaquin would reach hurricane strength and that the ship’s path would take it straight into the track of the storm.

El Faro left the port of Jacksonville about 8 p.m. Tuesday, according to Marinetraffic.com.

Fedor said the disappearance of a 790-foot ship is unusual.

But “no matter how big the ship is, when you are disabled, and you’re at sea, and you’re in the middle of a storm … the size and strength of that storm is just enough to overcome just about anything.”

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