NTSB opens investigation into cargo ship sinking

The National Transportation Safety Board launched its go-team to Florida today and will be joining the investigation into the sunken cargo ship, El Faro.

The NTSB investigators will be hoping to gather any perishable evidence first, but they will also be looking at the logs, maintenance records, and the fitness of crew and captain, just as they do in plane or train crashes, officials said today.

They also hope to recover the data recorder that was on board.

The president of the company that owned the boat, which sent a distress signal Thursday morning and has not been heard from since, said that the captain indicated that he was aware of the conditions near Hurricane Joaquin.

Phil Greene, the president and CEO of Tote Services, which owned El Faro, said that the captain explained that he understood the storms track and had a sound plan going forward, enabling to pass around the storm with comfort.

It is unclear to them how long the vessel may have been disabled before communications received a call Thursday morning, but Greene said typically a crew will work to restore the propeller and that process can either be done quickly or take several hours.

“I think what is regrettable in this is the fact that the vessel [El Faro] did become disabled in the path of the storm and that is what led to ultimately the tragedy,” Greene said at a news conference Monday night.

“Regrettably, he suffered a mechanical problem with his main propulsion system, which left him in the path of the storm,” Greene said, according to the Associated Press. “We do not know when his engine problems began to occur, nor the reasons for his engine problems.”

The Coast Guard search, which will be run separately from the NTSB investigation, continued overnight into this morning. All told, the Coast Guard has searched an area larger than 160,574 square nautical miles, and area larger than California.

There were 33 crew members on board when the ship sank, and so far there has only been one known fatality, though that individual has not been identified nor has his body been recovered.

Capt. Mark Fedor, the Coast Guard chief of response, said Monday that they had found one emergency rescue suit that had “unidentifiable” human remains.

Fedor said that the rescuers were being called to other reports of signs of life, so after checking that the individual was deceased, they moved on in hopes of saving someone else, Fedor said during a news conference.

“We needed to quickly move to other reports of life,” Fedor said.

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