MIAMI — The US Coast Guard suspended its intensive search yesterday for survivors of "El Faro," a cargo ship believed to have sunk last week during Hurricane Joaquin with 33 crew aboard.
The El Faro, which went missing on last Thursday, was en route from Florida to Puerto Rico when it was caught in the ferocious storm near Crooked Island in the Bahamas.
"Today, 28 American families – from Florida to Maine – and five Polish families are heartbroken," President Barack Obama said in a statement, paying tribute to the crew.
"May they be comforted, in some small way, in knowing that they have the love and support of their neighbours, the merchant mariner community and the American people. May God bless the men and women of the El Faro."
A seven-day air-and-sea search has only yielded the body of one person, in a survival suit, and earlier yesterday the Coast Guard reported locating more debris from the ship, including a life jacket and an empty survival suit.
Coast Guard Captain Mark Fedor spoke of his regret at calling off the search, but said it had become clear that rescue operations at this point would be fruitless.
"The captain and crew of the El Faro were Americans and Poles, men and women, experienced mariners and young seamen," said Obama, as the Coast Guard released the name of the crew.
"They were beloved sons and daughters and loving husbands and fathers. They were dedicated engineers, technicians and a cook."
The El Faro sent a satellite notification that it had lost propulsion and was listing before contact was lost.
Tote Maritime, the company that owned the vessel, said it received the news that the search for survivors has been called off "with heavy hearts."
"Our focus has been on supporting and caring for the family members, loved ones, and friends of those aboard the El Faro," the Jacksonville, Florida-based company said.
"The Coast Guard's announcement will not change the support that Tote extends to those affected by this tragic event: though the search may be over, their grief, and ours, is not."
The US National Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation into the incident. NTSB officials have said a probe may take months to complete.
Tote Maritime pledged its "full and open participation" in the investigation and said it would also carry out its own probe into safety procedures on the ship.
Announcing the suspension into the hunt, Fedor said: "Any decision to suspend a search is painful. In this particular case, we were searching for fellow professional mariners.
"We were also searching for members of the extended Coast Guard family."
"I know that the Coast Guard along with our brethren in the Navy and the Air Force, as well as the commercial tugs that were out there helping ussearch, did all they could in this search effort," Fedor said, describing the rescue mission as "an all-hands effort".
The 225-meter El Faro was carrying 391 containers in addition to 294 trailers and automobiles below deck when it disappeared.
Joaquin has proved to be the Atlantic hurricane season's most powerful storm so far this year, reaching Category four out of maximum five in intensity.
The storm caused serious damage in the Bahamas, as well as major power outages in Bermuda. — AFP