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U.S. Merchant Marine Academy grad Steven Shultz and former East Rockaway resident Howard Schoenly identified as crew members on El Faro

Coast Guard officials speak about the sunken cargo

Coast Guard officials speak about the sunken cargo ship El Faro, on which Steven Shultz, right, served as a crew member, during a press conference on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, at the Miami-Opa Locka Airport in Opa-locka, Fla. Photo Credit: AP / WBBH-TV

A Long Island native and a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point are crew members on the cargo ship El Faro, which disappeared and probably sank Thursday near the Bahamas in rough seas stirred up by Hurricane Joaquin.

In a morning briefing yesterday, Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor said search crews had found a body, life rings, a lifeboat, shipping containers and other items from the El Faro and efforts had switched from looking for the 790-foot container ship to scouring the seas for survivors.

By evening, crews in the air and on sea had searched more than 160,000 square nautical miles and three Coast Guard cutters were going to search through the night.

"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.

Two have ties to Long Island.

Howard "Howie" Schoenly, 50, a sailor for 25 years who grew up in East Rockaway, is second engineer on the El Faro in charge of the engines, said his brother, Steven Schoenly of Freeport.

"It's devastating news," he said from Florida. "It's hard to believe they could survive either on the boat or off."

Howard Schoenly graduated from East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School in 1984. He and his wife Karen, who is from Oceanside, live in Cape Coral, Florida, and before that spent 17 years in Tennessee. Married to his wife 20 years, he has a son, Patrick, 26, from a previous marriage. "He was an incredible person, caring, a heart of gold, loved his family, loved his wife," Schoenly's brother said.

Also on board is Steven Shultz, who graduated from Kings Point in 1984 with a bachelor's in marine transportation and lives in Cape Coral, said Jim Tobin, president of the USMMA Alumni Association and Foundation.

His family confirmed his attendance at Kings Point but declined to talk, instead thanking people for their concern.

The El Faro, run by TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, lost communication early Thursday morning. The crew reported it had lost propulsion, or the ability to generate thrust to move, and was listing 15 degrees. The ship had also taken on water but that had been contained.

In a statement, company president Tim Nolan said it appeared the El Faro sank near its last known position and that the firm still held hope for survivors.

"It's devastating to think of their last moments," Steven Schoenly said.

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, Fedor said.

At least four planes, three Coast Guard cutters and three commercial tugboats were searching Monday, Fedor 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.

The cargo ship was built in 1975, updated in 2006 and had a Coast Guard inspection in March.

Monday night, the Coast Guard mission was still search and rescue. "Until the Coast Guard says they're done, it gives you hope," Tobin said. "You never know."


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