It is still unclear how the missing ship will impact the TOTE Maritime Alaska operations, which offers twice-weekly cargo-ship service between the Port of Tacoma and the Port of Anchorage.

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The El Faro cargo ship that has been missing since Hurricane Joaquin hit the Bahamas last week was expected to return to Tacoma this fall after serving as a lifeline to Puerto Rico for the last nine years.

The El Faro was going to relieve a Tacoma ship being sent out for liquefied natural-gas conversion this winter, said John Parrott, president of Federal Way-based TOTE Maritime Alaska, a subsidiary of TOTE Inc. The subsidiary TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico owns the El Faro vessel.

It is still unclear how the missing ship will impact the TOTE Maritime Alaska operations, which offers twice-weekly cargo-ship service between the Port of Tacoma and the Port of Anchorage.

“Our focus has been, for the last week, very much on the search for the El Faro and the families of the crew,” Parrott said. “We now have to sit down and work through what to do as it relates to the LNG project.”

The El Faro, on a course from Jacksonville, Fla., to San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been missing since Oct. 1 as it sailed through the Bahamas at the height of the storm, which had winds of 140 mph and waves topping 50 feet.

The AP reported the captain of the 790-foot ship, carrying 33 people, planned to bypass the hurricane, but some kind of mechanical failure left the container ship adrift in the storm’s path.

On Monday, the Coast Guard concluded the ship sank near the Bahamas and one unidentified body in a survival suit has been found. The Coast Guard suspended the search for survivors Wednesday evening after covering more than 172,000 square miles.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Wednesday it will try to retrieve the data recorder from the ship, estimated to be 15,000 feet down. The NTSB sent a team to Jacksonville on Tuesday to begin the agency’s inquiry.

“We will be looking at everything. So, we leave no stone unturned in our investigation and our analysis. We want to find every bit of information that we possibly can,” Bella Dinh-Zarr, NTSB vice chairman, said.

In addition to the voyage data recorder — which begins pinging when it gets wet and has a 30-day battery life — the board will focus on communications between the captain and the vessel’s owner.

The AP reported the El Faro had no history of engine failure and the company said the vessel was modernized in 1992 and 2006. Coast Guard records show it underwent its last inspection in March.

The El Faro’s relationship to Washington dates back to 1991 when Seattle-based Saltchuk Resources bought it to service Alaska and renamed it the Northern Light. It was sent to Puerto Rico in 2006.

Saltchuk is the parent company of TOTE Inc.

Seattle native Mike Garvey co-founded Saltchuk in 1982 with a group of seven other investors to acquire Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE), a domestic ocean-liner service to Alaska that had been operating since 1975. Seattle-based Foss Maritime is also part of the family.

TOTE for the Alaskan market and Sea Star Line for the Puerto Rican market were rebranded TOTE Maritime in September, Parrott said.

Saltchuk is one of the largest private companies in Washington with more than $2 billion in assets, nearly $3 billion in annual revenue and 7,730 employees within its six different business lines: air cargo, domestic and international shipping and logistics, marine services, petroleum distribution and trucking.

Garvey became majority shareholder and chairman of Saltchuk in 1993 and retired in 2007. His sons-in-law Mark Tabbutt and Timothy Engle are now chairman and president, respectively. In 2009, Garvey’s three daughters stepped into the role of majority owners of the company.

Operating the maritime-focused family-owned company for so many years, Garvey, now 77, said he never could have imagined a situation as bad as the El Faro’s disappearance during a hurricane.

“If I had made a list of the risks that we had in the company, that would have been on the bottom,” he said. “I never would have guessed. It is a horrible, horrible tragedy.”

Garvey said his sons-in-law and daughters all went to Florida after the news broke and it has been very emotional for the family, most of whom have all been on the El Faro.

“When we describe it as a family business, we don’t just mean our family, we mean everybody who works there,” he said. “That is what makes this such a tragedy — there are still people hoping for this miracle that they will find their loved one.”