JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the Coast Guard ended its search for the missing cargo ship the El Faro Wednesday night, loved ones are still holding out hope they'll see their family members again and while others have accepted the loss of their loved ones and said the Coast Guard owes it to the families to recover the crew's bodies.
Coast Guard search crews believe the ship sank Thursday off Crooked Island in the Bahamas as it passed near the center of Hurricane Joaquin.
At a joint press conference between the National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard, Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor said it was a painful decision, but the search for survivors of the El Faro had to be suspended.
The combined assets of the Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force and three commercial tugs hired by TOTE Maritime had found only minimal debris.
"The decision to end a search, to suspend a search is painful," Fedor said. "We want the families to know how committed we were to finding their loved ones."
There were 33 people on board the container ship when it left the port of Jacksonville a week ago, headed for Puerto Rico.
President Barack Obama released a statement about suspending the search for the ship Wednesday saying in part:
"Today, 28 American families--from Florida to Maine--and five Polish families are heartbroken. May they be comforted, in some small way, in knowing that they have the love and support of their neighbors, the merchant mariner community and the American people. May God bless the men and women of the El Faro. May He comfort their families. And may He watch over and protect all those who serve at sea on behalf of us all."
So far, rescuers found one body, but said it was unidentifiable.
The families of the crew members who were aboard the ship are still gathering at the Seafarers Union Hall waiting for updates and new information on the search as they continue to try to find comfort from one another.
Speaking with relatives and others, News4Jax is collecting the stories of the sailors on El Faro's last voyage.
Dylan Meklin (left), 23, was an all-star athlete in Maine. He had just completed his training as a merchant seaman and this was his first trip to sea.
Michael Holland went to the same school: Maine Maritime Academy.
El Faro's captain, Michael Davidson, is also a graduate. TOTE Maritime said he had 20 years of experience at sea. His wife told the media he was "extremely capable" with "extensive training."
Jackie Jones (right), graduated high school from Paxson School for Advanced Studies and owned a restaurant and a day care, and his father, Jackie Jones Sr. said that his son was planning on retiring from being a seaman next year because he just wanted to spend more time home with his family. He also said that his son was a fighter and that he feels like the search was called off too soon.
"If there's anybody on that ship, my son was a fighter, if he saw a Styrofoam top on a cooler and he had thought it would save his life, he would have done that," Jones Sr. said.
Jones Sr, and other family members are coming to grips with the reality that their loved ones might be dead but said that there won't be any closure until their bodies are brought back home.
"Bring my son home. I know you can't bring him back but bring my son home, what's left of him so I can give him a proper burial. I can't fly to the Bahamas and throw roses out there on the water. I want to give him a proper burial and take my grandkids and say, "This is where he's resting at,'" Jones Sr. said.
Danielle Randolph (right), 34, was the ship's second mate. Just before the El Faro disappeared, she sent this email to her mother:
"Not sure if you have been following the weather at all but there is a hurricane out here and we are heading straight into it. Category 3 last we checked. Winds are super bad and seas are not great. Love to everyone."
Keith Griffin and Jeffrey Mathias graduated from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where staff remembered them kindly.
Carey Hatch (below) was a husband and father whose wife, Tracy Hatch, talked about how difficult the whole ordeal has been.
"It's rough, real rough," Tracy Hatch said. "I don't know how to explain anything. It's just been very, very rough."
Tracy Hatch also said that she's still not giving up hope and believes her husband is still alive. She said she doesn't even care who was at fault in the ships sinking; she just wants her husband back.
Many of the sailors were from Jacksonville, including LaShawn Rivera, who graduated from Raines High School and was working in El Faro's engine room.
Rev. Robert Green is the father of 32-year-old LaShawn Rivera and said he is still holding out hope that his son will be found.
"Until every lifeboat is recovered and raft is accounted for, and every suit is checked off the list, than we have to assume that there is somebody out there in a raft, a suit or a boat, waiting to be rescued," Green said.
Green said Rivera is a father of two, with a third child, Tatiana Green, who is due in November.
"Once they got the ultrasound they began to think about names. That's how excited he was about building his family and building a life going forward," Green said.
But it is his son's future that Green said he is holding out hope for.
"We're envisioning Shawn (right) in survival mode. We know how tough he is, we know that if there is a fight to be fought, he's fighting it. If there's a fight to be won, he's winning it," Green said.
Green said that through this tragedy there is a chance for others to remember what's important and remind loved ones of what they mean to each other.
"I think we all don't know sometimes, when the last time, or when there's going to be trouble between the time we speak to our loved one. I would recommend anyone who's walking out the door, treat them as if it's the last time you'll see them," Green said. "If I don't see him again on this side, I pray to God that we're together on his side."
Rivera's friend, Roosevelt Clark, attended the same school. Their friends and family are in shock, leaving messages of support on the men's Facebook pages.
Larry Davis was a life-long mariner. The military veteran had been in the industry for more than two decades. His family said he was happily married for 39 years, with two kids and two grandchildren.
Danny Howard, Larry Davis's brother in-law said the family was remaining hopeful, but said the days ahead will be difficult both emotionally and financially.
"They're still hopeful. My sister Terry doesn't want to give up, and I can't blame her," Howard said. "It will be hard for all the families because when you're used to having and you don't have, some of the people are paycheck to paycheck."
Frank Hamm III helped steer the ship. He texted his daughter, "I love you" before leaving port on Tuesday.
"He's a very good, lovable man," said Hamm's daughter, Destiny Sparrow. "Loves his job. Loves to work. Not one thing he wouldn't do for somebody"
Mariette Wright's mother describes her as a ball of energy, an adventurous woman not afraid to work a tough job.
"She loves the sea," said Wright's mother, Mary Shevory. "She couldn't live without being on the sea somehow or somewhere. And that is her life, and now I'm so afraid she's lost it to the sea."
Melinda Mahar lived with Wright (below) for a year and said they were very close. She said the moment she heard the ship was lost she feared the worst because Wright oftentimes spoke about her job and how dangerous it was. Mahar said that danger didn't scare Mariette, in fact, it drove her.
"A ship is safe in the harbor, but that's not what ships are made for. That's how she lived, just like that," Mahar said. "Everything was full steam ahead with her. Every emotion, every passion, she didn't do anything just a little bit."
Maher believes Mariette and her mother Mary are strikingly similar, both were risk takers with a huge sense of adventure. During conversations, Wright told Maher her favorite place to sail for work was southern Europe, her least favorite was the Middle East.
Maher says the last time Mariette sailed to Pakistan, authorities wanted to arrest her because she wasn't dressed to their liking. She said Mariette never let that get her down. But one thing Wright wanted to see more of was respect and appreciation for everything sailors and merchant marines do on a daily basis.
"She was a woman in that industry as a merchant marine. That's not an easy thing, any woman in that industry will tell you that," Mahar said. "You work until you drop, that's what these people do. Every day they're out there in the freezing cold or beating hot sun. Even when they enter a port, they're working, and what they're doing is delivering goods for us."
Maher hopes anyone who knew Wright will reach out to the family. She believes her mother and sisters need the support right now.
Anyone with information or memories can email Channel 4's Heather Leigh at HLeigh@wjxt.com.
Many of these family members told News4Jax that this was a tough crew, trained and ready to handle the worst of conditions. As unlikely as it may seem, they are holding onto hope that their loved ones are out there alive, just waiting to be rescued.
Those from out of state are staying at hotels in Jacksonville, attending daily briefings by the ship's owner. American Red Cross volunteers are helping with any essentials. Religious leaders have also come by the hotels and the Seafarer's Union to pray with those who wanted to, giving them emotional support while they wait for the latest news.
The Coast Guard released a full list of the crew of SS El Faro Wednesday that was provided by TOTE Maritime:
- Louis Champa - Palm Coast, Florida
- Roosevelt Clark - Jacksonville, Florida
- Sylvester Crawford Jr. - Lawrenceville, Georgia
- Michael Davidson - Windham, Maine
- Brookie Davis - Jacksonville, Florida
- Keith Griffin - Fort Myers, Florida
- Frank Hamm - Jacksonville, Florida
- Joe Hargrove - Orange Park, Florida
- Carey Hatch - Jacksonville, Florida
- Michael Holland - North Wilton, Maine
- Jack Jackson - Jacksonville, Florida
- Jackie Jones, Jr. - Jacksonville, Florida
- Lonnie Jordan - Jacksonville, Florida
- Piotr Krause - Poland
- Mitchell Kuflik - Brooklyn, New York
- Roan Lightfoot - Jacksonville Beach, Florida
- Jeffrey Mathias - Kingston, Massachusetts
- Dylan Meklin - Rockland, Maine
- Marcin Nita - Poland
- Jan Podgorski - Poland
- James Porter - Jacksonville, Florida
- Richard Pusatere - Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Theodore Quammie - Jacksonville, Florida
- Danielle Randolph - Rockland, Massachusetts
- Jeremie Riehm - Camden, Delaware
- Lashawn Rivera - Jacksonville, Florida
- Howard Schoenly - Cape Coral, Florida
- Steven Shultz - Roan Mountain, Tennessee
- German Solar-Cortes - Orlando, Florida
- Anthony Thomas - Jacksonville, Florida
- Andrzej Truszkowski - Poland
- Mariette Wright - St. Augustine, Florida
- Rafal Zdobych - Poland