The voyage data recorder (VDR) belonging to the ill-fated cargo ship El Faro was located early Tuesday morning in 15,000 feet of water, about 36 nautical miles northeast of Acklins and Crooked Islands, Bahamas, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The investigative team, comprised of specialists from the NTSB, the U.S. Coast Guard, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the owner and operator of El Faro, Tote Services, located the El Faro’s mast where the VDR was mounted using remotely operated undersea search equipment at about 1 a.m. EDT.
After examining numerous images provided by undersea search equipment, the team positively identified the VDR.
“It would not have been possible without the information gained during the first survey of the wreckage,” NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart, said.
The next step in the ongoing investigation is to determine how the VDR can be retrieved.
The research vessel Atlantis will stay at the accident site through April 30, while the team continues the photo- and video-documentation of the sunken ship and debris field before returning to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on May 5.
In a separate announcement, the USCG said that it will conduct a second round of public hearings for the Marine Board of Investigation into El Faro’s sinking.
“The second hearing will focus on shipboard operations, cargo loading, lashing and stowage operations for the accident voyage while also examining the vessel’s analysis of stability and weather conditions forcasted and encountered,” the USCG said.
In addition, the regulatory oversight for the El Faro will be examined to determine and potential implications of that oversight on the accident voyage.
The third hearing will examine additional elements of the investigation including crew witnesses, TOTE company officials and contents of the El Faro’s VDR if it can be recovered and analyzed.
The U.S.-flagged cargo ship sank on October 1, 2015, during Hurricane Joaquin while sailing from Florida to Puerto Rico, taking all 33 crewmembers with it.