Wreckage of lost El Faro ship is identified

El Faro sank in the Caribbean with 33 people on board.
El Faro sank in the Caribbean with 33 people on board. Tote Maritime/New York Times

Thirty-two days after the cargo ship El Faro went missing with a crew that included seven mariners with New England ties, a US naval search team has identified the vessel’s wreckage just east of the Bahamas, federal officials said Monday.

The 790-foot El Faro disappeared on Oct. 1 during the relentless 120-mile-per-hour winds of Hurricane Joaquin.

All of the 33 crew members, including the New Englanders, are presumed dead.

The ship was found about 15,000 feet below the Atlantic Ocean’s surface on Saturday by a Navy tugboat hauling an advanced sonar system, according to a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.


The following day, searchers used an unmanned submersible vehicle to verify the finding and begin the identification process.

At 1 p.m. on Monday, the NTSB announced that the wreckage was, indeed, the El Faro.

‘‘The ship will certainly not be recovered; the ship is going to stay there. The containers are too deep to do any kind of recovery mission,’’ Peter Knudsen, an NTSB spokesman, said on Sunday. ‘‘If human remains are encountered, an attempt would be made to recover them.’’

The positive identification ends an exhaustive search by the NTSB and the Navy, which have deployed air and sea crews to search the North Atlantic for a month.

It also removed all doubt for family members, some of whom expressed hope that their loved ones could have survived.

Two Massachusetts natives, Keith Griffin of Winthrop and Jeffrey Mathias of Kingston, were aboard the El Faro. Both were graduates of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne.

Also on board was Mariette Wright, whose mother, Mary Shevory, lives in Brockton.

Attempts to reach their family members on Monday night were unsuccessful. Officials at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy could not be reached for comment.

Four other crew members, including Captain Michael Davidson of Windham, were graduates of the Maine Maritime Academy. They were among 28 American crew members; five others were from Poland.


El Faro left Jacksonville, Fla., for Puerto Rico at about 8:15 p.m. on Sept. 29, according to the NTSB. On Oct. 1, Davidson called authorities and reported that the vessel had lost engine power and was taking on water. The technical problems were coupled with the tough ocean conditions due to Joaquin.

The NTSB said the last contact from El Faro to the authorities came at 7:17 a.m., 20 miles from the eye of the hurricane.

To determine what happened next, the NTSB said that officials now must locate the ship’s black box, also called a voyage data recorder.

‘‘We do know the ship, from the sonar-generated images, does appear to be upright, so that’s encouraging,’’ Knudsen said.

At a news conference last month announcing a lawsuit against the ship’s owner, a lawyer for a victim’s family called the ship “not seaworthy” and pledged to show the public that “the ship should have never left the docks.”

Through an e-mailed statement on Monday, a spokesman for the ship’s owner, TOTE Maritime, refused to comment on all pending legal actions.

TOTE Maritime spokesman Michael Hanson said the company’s thoughts and prayers were with the crew members’ loved ones.

“We can confirm that families have been contacted regarding compensation. We do understand that in these difficult and tragic circumstances, a number of families may have pressing financial burdens, and we want to ensure that we are there to help immediately,” Hanson said.


“Our efforts remain focused on providing care and support, and this step is a step for those who may choose it.”

Four days after the ship disappeared, Katie Griffin, the wife of Keith Griffin, told The Boston Globe that her husband had called her on Sept. 30 from the doomed El Faro.

He acknowledged that the hurricane was looming but was confident the crew could handle the conditions, Griffin said.

Attempts to reach Griffin on Monday night were unsuccessful.

“He said it was going to be a stormy night, and he wouldn’t get much sleep,’’ she said in early October.

“And then he told me that he loved me.”

At the time, the couple was expecting twins.


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Four sailors from Maine said to be on missing cargo ship

Globe correspondent Jack Newsham contributed to this report. Astead W. Herndon
can be reached at astead.herndon@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.