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NTSB releases first report on El Faro tragedy

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report Thursday on the investigation into the El Faro tragedy.

It said the U.S. Coast Guard received distress alerts from the 737 foot cargo ship on October 1 around 7:15 a.m.

The ship was 36 nautical miles northeast of Acklins and Crooked Islands, Bahamas, and close to the eye of Hurricane Joaquin.

The ship was en route from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico with a cargo of containers and vehicle.s

Just minutes before the distress alerts, the El Faro master called TOTE Maritime's designated person ashore and reported the ship was experiencing some flooding, according to the NTSB report.

He said the crew had controlled the flooding but the ship was listing at 15 degrees and lost propulsion.

The Coast Guard and TOTE were unable to reestablish communication with the ship. Of 33 crew members on the Jacksonville-based ship, 28 were U.S. citizens and five were from Poland.

The Coast Guard deployed helicopters and search vessels to the ship's last known position, but the search was hampered by hurricane force conditions, the report stated.

On Sunday, October 4, a damaged lifeboat, two damaged liferafts, and a deceased crewmember wearing an immersion suit were found. The next day, a debris field and oil slick were found, and the Coast Guard determined the El Faro was lost and declared the event a major marine casualty. The Coast Guard suspended the unsuccessful search for survivors at sundown on Wednesday, October 7.

On Tuesday, October 6, the National Transportation Safety Board launched a full team to Jacksonville to lead the federal investigation in cooperation with the Coast Guard, the American Bureau of Shipping (the El Faro's classification society), and TOTE as parties.

The U.S. Navy Salvage and Diving division of the Naval Seas Systems Command was contracted to locate the sunken ship, assist in the sea floor documentation of the wreckage, and recover the voyage data recorder.