JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Friends and family members gathered Monday night at the Seafarers Union Hall on the Southside as rescue crews continue to search for survivors of the cargo ship that left Jacksonville and may have sunk after running into hurricane Joaquin.
Many of them are questioning the decision to go out to sea while the hurricane was in the area.
That decision was up to, in part, Capt. Michael Davidson, who graduated from the Maine Maritime School in 1988, which experts said is a well-respected school. A representative from the school said they have a, "Concern there could be more of our graduates on there."
Anthony Chiarello, President and CEO of TOTE Inc., the owner of the El Faro, along with Tim Nolan, President of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, and Phil Greene, TOTE Services President came forward Monday night to update families and the media on Davidson and the ongoing search.
"I'm the President and CEO of TOTE so the responsibility ends with me. We put tremendous trust in our captains, in our crews, and all our employees whether their on land or at sea, but in the end the responsibility comes with me," Chiarello, said.
Nolan also said that Wednesday around 10 a.m. Davidson sent out an email where he indicated that he knew the weather and had been monitoring the track of the Joaquin and was confident in his course.
"He said he had a plan, the crew was well prepared and briefed and the weather conditions looked very favorable." Nolan said.
The website the Daily Mail is reporting it spoke with Davidson's wife, Theresa Davidson, who said on Friday, "My husband is extremely capable, he has extensive training, if anyone can handle a situation like that it's my husband so we are hopeful that he's just waiting it out and that they'll be rescued today."
Rod Sullivan, a local maritime expert, said Davidson would hold an Unlimited Masters License, which is the highest level of captain's license, meaning he can essentially captain any size ship.
"Just to sit for the captain's license, he would have had to have had many years at sea. In excess of seven or eight years. (The masters license), that's the best you can get. You can sail ships of any size on oceans," Sullivan said.
Sullivan also spoke about the fact that Davidson has a lot of experience, which some people have questioned if that would make him more or less inclined to set sail with a hurricane brewing in the ocean.
"Sometimes when someone has been working for a company for a long period of time they become desirous of pleasing the ship owners and maybe taking risks that a younger captain would not take. And sometimes the way you get to be captain is by keeping the ship on schedule," Sullivan said.
But Chiarello came forward Monday stressing the fact that nothing should ever come before safety.
"The No. 1 priority, for our company, for TOTE and for the other operating companies is safety. It always has been always been and it always will be. The safety of our people, the safety of the environment. And I can assure you that there's no schedule that is more important to keep that would in any way endanger lives of our crew members or employees," Chiarello said.
Sullivan also said the captain would have had extensive training in ship safety and meteorology.
Regardless of what lead to the ships disappearance family members continue meeting at the union hall night after night hoping for some good news.
Destiny Sparrow's father, Frank Hamm, was responsible for steering the ship and she said she's not happy with what has happened or the lack of answers.
"They haven't told us much except my momma called me this morning and said the ship had sunk. That's all the news we've been given so far. So I drove over to her house and I started crying and was holding her because it's hard," Sparrow said.
Sparrow has been frustrated and is one of the people questioning why the El Faro left port knowing the Joaquin could develop into a hurricane.
"That's what I do not like. I don't think they should have shipped him out when they didn't know what was going on. That makes no sense to me at all. Like, if they knew the hurricane was coming, they should have kept them there. That makes no sense at all. I don't agree with that," Sparrow said.
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and local ministers have been called in to help the families during this time. Reverend Aaron Flagg from Emanuel Missionary Baptist Church, who is helping to support the families, said all you can do is trust in God.
"God is still God. He works in mysterious ways. He can mend a broken heart," Flagg said.
Emma Bruer is one of many who came out to offer her support and her son served on the El Faro until a few months ago. She said if circumstances had been different, he would be out there right now.
"My son is alive today. I'm very very sorry to the people in the ship you know. Hard working people and it's very very sad. I can't even believe it myself," Bruer said.
The Coast Guard said it wants to make sure the families in Jacksonville, nationwide and overseas know without a doubt that search crews are not giving up.
The flight crews helping in the search stopped searching for the night Monday only because they were required to take a break from flying for safety reasons.
But the ships helping in the search were not docked at the Port of Miami because they were still out searching.
"Overnight we have six different ships out there searching," Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss said.
Doss said while the flight search crews rest and gear up for the next day, search teams from the Coast Guard, Air Force and Navy, along with commercial tug boats, hired by TOTE, the company that owns the El Faro, continued combing the dark waters.
"We didn't find that second life boat and there are still several life vests out there," Ross said.