The Seafarers International Union, which represents 28 of the 33 crew members on the lost freighter El Faro, pitched in in the search for their bodies after Hurricane Joaquin sank the freighter in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. But the search was futile and ended on Oct. 7, six days after the El Faro was lost. El Faro’s crew included 17 Seafarers and 11 members of the American Maritime Officers, a Seafarers affiliate, plus five Polish nationals. Joaquin was a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 150 mph and resulting extremely high seas.
“There are no words that can adequately express the grief and sorrow at this time,” said Seafarers President Michael Sacco, who also heads the AFL-CIO’s Maritime Trades Department. “Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who sailed aboard the El Faro. We will never forget the men and women from the El Faro’s final voyage.”
President Barack Obama, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and his colleagues added their condolences. The AFL-CIO lowered U.S. flags at its headquarters to half-staff. Click below to read more...
“As their ship battled the storm, they were no doubt working as they lived -- together, as one crew,” Obama said. “Our economic prosperity and quality of life depend upon men and women who serve aboard ships like the El Faro.” After thanking the searchers “who worked so tirelessly,” Obama pledged full federal support of the probe of the sinking “because the grieving families deserve answers and because we have to do everything in our power to ensure the safety of our people, including those who work at sea.”
MTD also thanked Coast Guard, Air Force and Navy personnel, civilian mariners and others who searched for the El Faro crew “during harrowing conditions.”
The 735-foot freighter, carrying cars and other goods from Jacksonville, Fla., to San Juan, P.R., was last heard from on Oct. 1. Last reports said the ship had lost propulsion, had a 15-degree list, but had stopped taking on water. But then communications ceased.
A massive joint Coast Guard-Air Force-Navy search, which Sacco said SIU members participated in, turned up one drowned body and some debris, including life jackets and vests. There was also an oil sheen on the ocean’s surface. The ship’s equivalent of an airplane’s “black box,” which was supposed to emit pings on contact with water, did not.
The search crews did “everything possible to locate our brothers and sisters,” Sacco said. Fellow Seafarers were deployed to join them, he said. “I’m sure others have also pitched in. I thank every single one of them.” The union is hosting meetings for the Seafarers’ families and comforting them at its hall in Jacksonville, home port of the freighter.
Sacco also thanked Seafarers members who reached out to their colleagues’ kin through social media. “At a time when we’ve basically felt helpless, it has been comforting to pull together and share our hopes and feelings and thoughts. Whether on the ships or in the halls or in cyberspace, we remain a family,” Sacco said.