The El Faro sank off the Bahamas a month ago during Hurricane Joaquin. Expert David Gallo answers questions about the challenges and decisions facing workers trying to recover the data recorder and bodies of crew.
BOSTON — It’s 15,000 feet beneath the waves — deeper than the final resting place of the Titanic.
What’s involved in efforts to recover the data recorder of the cargo ship El Faro? What about the bodies of the 33 crew members who were aboard when the ship sank off the Bahamas a month ago during Hurricane Joaquin?
David Gallo, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass., who helped locate the wreckage of an Air France jetliner off Brazil in 2011 and joined one of the final expeditions to the Titanic’s ocean grave, spoke to The Associated Press on Monday about the challenges and decisions facing recovery workers.
Before its sinking, the El Faro was expected to return to Tacoma to make cargo runs to Alaska for Federal Way-based TOTE Maritime Alaska, owned by Seattle-based Saltchuk Resources.
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Q: What’s the next step for recovery crews?
A: They are going to use a robot called CURV (the U.S. Navy’s Cable-controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle). They will start … looking and documenting the damage of the ship and trying to describe it. They are starting in a way to collect forensic information. The goals are to recover the voyage data recorder, which is like the black boxes on a plane; and secondly and most important, for the sake of the families and loved ones, to recover any human remains.
Q: What kind of ocean conditions are they dealing with?
A: This is in about 3 miles of water. That’s even deeper than the Titanic. There may be some ups and downs, some bumps, but I think the sea floor should be fairly easy to work with in that area. They won’t have to worry about running into the side of a cliff or something like that.
Q: What kind of condition is the ship likely to be in?
A: They know it’s sitting upright, which is odd. It’s in one piece. That part surprised me, because typically when it sinks like that it will be crushed by the pressure. So any air pockets inside the ship would be crushed, unless the ship is thoroughly filled with water so there is nothing for the ocean to crush. This would suggest to me that the hull filled fairly quickly with water and the ship sank fairly quickly. It didn’t go down slowly with air pockets.
Q: How difficult is it to physically recover the data recorder and any human remains?
A: It’s going to be difficult to get into that ship. They are going to have to find a way in and if they can’t find a way, they have the ability to cut their way in.
Q: How has technology shaped ocean-based search and recovery?
A: Every single year, about 10 ships of this size sink somewhere out in the ocean. In the past, we would commit the ships and the souls aboard to the deep for eternity. But now here we are with this technology. We go fairly routinely into this thing we once called eternity.