A graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point is a crew member on the cargo ship El Faro, which disappeared and likely sunk near the Bahamas Thursday in rough seas stirred up by Hurricane Joaquin.
In a Monday morning briefing Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor said search crews had recovered life rings, a life boat, shipping containers and other items from the El Faro and efforts had switched from looking for the 790-foot ship to scouring the seas for survivors.
"We are still looking for survivors, for any signs of life," Fedor said.
The El Faro left Jacksonville, Florida, Sept. 29 bound for San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was carrying 391 containers top deck and 294 trailers and cars below deck. On board were 33 crew members -- 28 from the United States and five from Poland.
Among them is Steven Shultz, who graduated from Kings Point in 1984 with a bachelor's in marine transportation and lives in Cape Coral, Florida, said Jim Tobin, president of the USMMA Alumni Association and Foundation.
"Until the Coast Guard says they're done, it gives you hope," Tobin said. "You never know."
The El Faro, run by TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, lost communication early Thursday morning. The crew reported it had lost propulsion, or steering, and was listing 15 degrees. The ship had also taken on water but that problem had been contained.
In a statement company president Tim Nolan said it appeared the El Faro sank near it's last known position and that the firm still held out hope for survivors.
Coast Guard searchers found a crew member in a survival suit about 35 nautical miles from where the El Faro may have gone down but the person did not survive.
Tobin said he took it as good news that people were able to get into the survival suits, signaling perhaps they had time to prepare. "That, to me, gives me hope that not everybody was thrown overboard unexpectedly."
At least four planes, three Coast Guard cutters and three commercial tug boats were searching Monday, focusing on two areas -- a 300 nautical square foot area near where the El Faro last transmitted and another spot about 60 miles north, Fedor said.
"We will hopefully find survivors," he said.
When the El Faro first signaled trouble it was in 30 to 40 foot waves with hurricane-force winds surrounding them.
"Them not having propulsion means they were at the mercy of the sea at that point," said Tobin, a 1977 graduate of the Merchant Marine Academy.