Steve Patterson, FLORIDA TIMES-UNION
20 October 2015
A Navy ship outfitted to search for sunken vessels left Norfolk, Va. Monday to begin seeking wreckage of the vanished cargo ship El Faro.
The USNS Apache carries side-scan sonar, a remote operated underwater vehicle and a voyage data recorder locator, designed to find the device that holds navigation, communications and other data about the final 12 hours before El Faro sank Oct. 1 near the eye of Hurricane Joaquin.
El Faro had 33 people onboard for a weekly trip from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the sinking and had said it would ask for the Navy’s help.
The ocean tug with a crew of 22 will search roughly 100 square miles northeast of Crooked Island in the Bahamas, an area expected to be four or five sailing days away from Norfolk because of difficult weather, the Naval Sea Systems Command said in a release. Ocean depths in that area can reach 15,000 feet, complicating efforts to retrieve items on the ocean floor.
The 226-foot ship is operated by the Military Sealift Command and provides towing, diving and standby submarine rescue services for the Navy.
Apache is usually used to search for downed military ships and planes, but the Navy has a history of working with other government agencies in underwater search and salvage work. In 2013, the Navy helped Australia’s government in its search for the vanished Malaysian Airliner MH 370.