The captain of the El Faro planned to sail ahead of Hurricane Joaquin, but the cargo ship was doomed by a mechanical failure that left it at the mercy of the storm, according to the vessel's owner. The CEO of Tote Services says the captain, who was last heard from on Thursday morning, had determined that the weather was good enough to follow a sister ship's path back to Jacksonville, Fla., the AP reports. "Regrettably he suffered a mechanical problem with his main propulsion system, which left him in the path of the storm," the CEO says. "We do not know when his engine problems began to occur, nor the reasons for his engine problems." The Coast Guard believes the ship, with a crew of 28 Americans and five Poles, sank in 15,000 feet of water near the Bahamas.
Mariners tell the AP that the ship would probably have been able to make it through the worst of the storm if it had engine power, but without it, it would have been helpless and even abandoning ship would have been extremely difficult. Such disasters are extremely rare, reports the Atlantic. Until the El Faro, more Boeing 777s had been lost at sea than large cargo ships over the last five years, and, amid a huge volume of maritime traffic, only six were lost in the decade from 2005, although dozens more ran aground or sank with some warning. Searchers are now looking for survivors instead of the ship itself, though all they have found so far is debris and a survival suit with "unidentifiable" human remains. (Read more Hurricane Joaquin stories.)