Sunken US Ship With 2 MMA Grads Had Sufficient Lifeboats, but Storm May Have Overwhelmed Crew

PHOTO COUTESY : MASSACHUSETTS MARITIME ACADEMY Photo of Jeffrey Mathias, 44, of Kingston who graduated from MMA in 1996.

PHOTO COUTESY : MASSACHUSETTS MARITIME ACADEMY
Photo of Jeffrey Mathias, 44, of Kingston who graduated from MMA in 1996.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The El Faro container ship had more than enough lifeboats and rafts for its well-trained crew of 33 to escape the sinking vessel, but maritime experts say the winds and seas of Hurricane Joaquin likely made the task extremely difficult.

The 790-foot ship had two lifeboats capable of carrying 43 people each, five life rafts and 46 water survival suits, according to the Coast Guard and the ship’s owner. It’s not known if the crew could deploy them before the disabled, powerless El Faro sank near the Bahamas.

An MMA spokesman confirmed that Keith Griffin, 33, and Jeffrey Mathias, 44, were among the crew. The Coast Guard began its fifth day of searching today near the Bahamas.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of all the mariners on board,” said Massachusetts Maritime Academy Admiral Francis McDonald, through a spokesman.

Griffin was a native of Winthrop and graduated from the Academy in 2005. Mathias was from Kingston and graduated in 1996.

“During this difficult time, we want them (families of the crew) to know that Massachusetts Maritime Academy and the entire maritime community stands by them while this search continues,” McDonald said.

Coast Guard officials say the search was continuing overnight into Tuesday. One body was found in a survival suit, a damaged lifeboat and other debris. The El Faro disappeared Thursday as Joaquin bore down on it while en route from Jacksonville, Florida, to Puerto Rico.

A team from the National Transportation Safety Board was on its way to Jacksonville on Tuesday morning to study debris from the cargo ship, conduct interviews, and look at documents to find out what went wrong and how to prevent such incidents in the future.

PHOTO COUTESY : MASSACHUSETTS MARITIME ACADEMY Photo of Keith Griffin, 33, a 2005 graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay. Griffin is among 33 crew members on board a cargo ship that went missing off the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin

PHOTO COUTESY : MASSACHUSETTS MARITIME ACADEMY
Photo of Keith Griffin, 33, a 2005 graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay. Griffin is among 33 crew members on board a cargo ship that went missing off the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin

NTSB Vice Chairwoman Bella Dinh-Zarr called it a tragic situation when reporters asked whether she was surprised that no survivors have been found. At a news conference at Washington’s Reagan National Airport as the team prepared to fly to Jacksonville, she said, “We have survival factors as a major part of our investigation.”

She says the NTSB’s investigation will be separate from the Coast Guard’s work and won’t interfere with search-and-rescue operations.

Dinh-Zarr says the size of the debris field and depth of the water are challenging for investigators.

The Coast Guard said during a briefing Monday morning that seas were 50 feet with 140 mile an hour winds at the time the cargo ship went down. The water depth in that area is 15,000 feet.

“What we have to assume as search planners is, if the vessel did sink on Thursday and that crew was able to abandon ship, they would have been abandoning ship into a category four hurricane,” said Coast Guard Captain Mark Fedor.

Searchers have found debris and clues, including one of the two lifeboats that were on board. A survival suit with one unidentified victim was also located.

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