Jacksonville-based cargo ship with 33 people, including 28 Americans, lost contact Thursday
Coast Guard locates debris field Sunday in vicinity of El Faro's last known position in Caribbean Sea
Ship company president says many of missing crew members have ties to Jacksonville
The U.S. Coast Guard reported Sunday evening that it had discovered a 225-square-mile debris field in the Caribbean Sea during its search for missing container ship El Faro.
The Jacksonville, Florida-based El Faro, which was carrying a crew of 28 Americans and five Polish nationals on its way to San Juan, Puerto Rico, went missing near the Bahamas last week as Hurricane Joaquin, with winds blowing at 130 mph, passed over the archipelago.
Sunday’s discovery of the debris field, which consisted of Styrofoam, wood, cargo and other items, according the Coast Guard, came only hours after the agency said searchers had found “multiple items,” including an oil sheen, life jackets and containers in the same search area.
The company that owns the 790-foot ship, TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, expressed distress at the likelihood of El Faro’s sinking.
“We located the objects via aircraft,” explained Lt. Cmdr. Gabe Somma, who also said that Coast Guard cutters were still fighting the weather trying to get to the vicinity of the ship’s last known position, about 35 nautical miles northeast of the Bahamas.
The Coast Guard said Sunday evening that the search teams, which also include personnel and resources from U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy, have covered more than 70,000 square miles.
Still, no sign of the El Faro or of any lifeboats, according to TOTE.
“With every passing hour, the search expands. When you’re searching for something in the ocean, tracking the drift patterns and dealing with weather elements – things are moving,” said Somma, describing the challenges of the search.
Chief Petty Officer Bobby Nash said search teams have had to weather 150-mph gusts, 30-foot waves and heavy rain.
Ties to Jacksonville
Phil Greene, the president of TOTE, told CNN affiliate WFOX that most of the ship’s crew members had ties to the Jacksonville area, but the company has not released any of their names.
“I think the most critical importance for us is that we share as much information as we have, that we’re upfront about the situations as we possibly can be,” Greene told CNN affiliate WFOX/WSVN .
CNN affiliate WGME-TV in Portland, Maine, said that at least four of the missing Americans, including El Faro’s captain, are from Maine, and that two of them graduated from the same high school and college, Maine Maritime Academy.
CNN reached out to the college Sunday night but did not immediately hear back.
Joaquin disrupts routine voyage
El Faro set out Tuesday on what should have been a routine voyage from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico.
But Joaquin soon barreled into the area, growing in strength.
Family members told WFOX they questioned why the ship sailed into what was then a tropical storm, but Greene, the TOTE president, told the station that the boat’s captain felt the conditions were favorable and “was very confident the ship was doing well, the crew was quite up to date.”
The mother of one of the missing crew members told WGME that she did not blame the captain.
“The blame that has to be done is on the hurricane, not the captain,” she said. “The captain is looking out for his crew.”
The Coast Guard said it would hold a briefing at 10 a.m. Monday to provide the latest on the search for El Faro.
CNN’s Vivian Kuo, Michael Martinez and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.