Safety officials are questioning the master of the ro-ro vessel El Yunque for clues that may help the investigation into the sinking of its sister ship, El Faro.
El Faro is presumed to have been lost, along with its 33 crew members, in the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin. The crew comprised 28 Americans and five Polish nationals. The remains of only one have so far been found.
In an interview that lasted “for hours”, the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB’s) vice-chairman, Bella Dinh-Zarr, told reporters on 8 October, El Yunque’s master confirmed that the two ships, described as “nearly identical”, had passed within visual sight of each other before El Faro’s last communication with TOTE Maritime safety personnel in Jacksonville, Florida.
“He was very co-operative, and he gave us a lot of information on both ships,” Dinh-Zarr said of the master.
“We will thoroughly document El Yunque’s navigation systems and its equipment, including the condition and exact location” of the vessel’s voyage data recorder (VDR), she added. The VDR is attached to the vessel’s bridge.
Locating the VDR on El Yunque will help investigators in their bid to locate the VDR on El Faro, Dinh-Zarr said, when the US Navy begins its on-site investigation in the area of the Caribbean from where the vessel was last heard on 1 October.
On 8 October the US Coast Guard and other agencies suspended a week-long effort to find the lost ship after searching more than 183,000 nm² off the Bahamian coast.
US President Barack Obama said the NTSB-led investigation now under way “will have the full support of the US government, because the grieving families of El Faro deserve answers and because we have to do everything in our power to ensure the safety of our people, including those who work at sea”.