El Faro
Map retracing the route of container ship El Faro which sank during Hurricane Joaquin in October. Reuters

A US Navy search team has located the wreckage of a cargo ship believed to be the El Faro at about 15,000 feet of water off the coast of the Bahamas, the National Transportation Safety Board announced on 31 October. The NTSB said that preliminary sonar imaging of the ship reveals it appears to be intact.

"Sophisticated sonar equipment towed from Apachefirst detected what are believed to be images of the vessel using Orion, a side-scanning sonar system, at about 1.36pm ET on October 31 during the fifth of 13 planned search line surveys," the NTSB said. It added that specialists on the USNS Apache planned to use CURV 21, a deep ocean remotely operated vehicle, to confirm the identity of the wreckage as early as 1 November.

According to NPR, the NTSB said if the wreckage is confirmed to be that of the El Faro, a video camera will be used to document the ship and its debris. The NTSB will also attempt to recover the voyage data recorder. Operations are expected to take up to 15 days but could be extended depending on weather and other conditions.

The 790-foot cargo ship disappeared on 1 October with 33 crew members during Hurricane Joaquin off the coast of the Bahamas. The El Faro was in the middle of a voyage from Jacksonville, Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico when it lost contact. The El Faro had a crew of 28 Americans and five Polish nationals between the ages of 23 and 54.

Prior to its disappearance, the El Faro Captain Michael Davidson called the ship's owner of satellite phone to report "a marine emergency". Davidson said that the ship had "a hull breach" and that a hatch on the vessel had blown open before it reportedly sunk. One of the ship's holds was taking on water. The NTSB also said the captain reported the 40-year-old ship had lost its main propulsion union and could not be restarted by the vessel's engineers.

During the initial search for the vessel by the US Coast Guard, searches discovered debris and one body in a survival suit. According to NBC News, the vessel and its sister ship were scheduled to be replaced by two new ships. The ship was being retrofitted for service between the West Coast and Alaska, the ship's owner said.