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Thirty-three people are missing after a cargo ship sailed right into the storm.

El Faro: U.S. Coast Guard calls off search for missing crew

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Thursday, October 8, 2015, 9:08 AM - The U.S. Coast Guard has ended the search for the 33 mariners aboard the missing El Faro ship. Family members of the crew were informed of the decision Wednesday evening.

Investigators are now focusing on finding the ship's data recorder.

Rescue crews have only recovered one body since Monday. 

Suspected debris from the cargo ship was also found near the Bermuda Triangle, an area southwest of Florida.

El Faro departed from Jacksonville, Fla., last week with a suspected arrival destination of Puerto Rico before it lost contact Thursday.

The vessel was directly in the path of Hurricane Joaquin, a storm that packed winds up to 225km/h and produced waves up to 15-metres high.

U.S. Coast Guard Captain Mark Fedor said it was "highly unlikely" anyone could have survived six days at sea after abandoning ship in the midst of a hurricane. According to Fedor, a person could only survive 4-5 days after abandoning ship in favourable conditions.

"The decision to end a search is painful, but it is based on the art and science of rescue operations," he told reporters at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

Crews are now focusing on recovering El Faro's voyage data recorder, but it won't be an easy task. The ship could be more than 4,500 metres underwater. According to NBC News, the recorder begins emitting a signal as soon as it makes contact with the water. It will send out a beacon for about 30 days, until the battery dies.

El Faro is a 40-year-old, 240-metre long cargo ship. Thirty-three crew members were on board at the time of the disappearance. Of that, 28 were American and five Polish.

El Faro was last observed inside the area commonly referred to as the Bermuda Triangle, between Cat Island and San Salvador Island.

A once in a 1,000-year flooding event

While Hurricane Joaquin never made landfall in the United States, the storm had a devastating impact on parts of the country, contributing to at least nine deaths in South Carolina and causing widespread flooding.

Two systems joined to funnel moisture toward several mid-Atlantic states.

More than 600 mm of rain fell in some places, washing out roads and causing massive travel delays.

The National Weather Service (NWS) in the U.S. was inundated with calls from South Carolina residents who experienced flooding in their neighbourhoods.

"It's still a pretty desperate situation," NWS forecaster Dave Loewenthal told Reuters Monday. "We are going to have river flooding for weeks, if not months." 

What is the Bermuda Triangle?

The Bermuda Triangle is a fictional region of the North Atlantic Ocean where a number of planes and ships are believed to have disappeared.

Popular culture references have linked the disappearances to paranormal activity -- but follow-up documents suggest that link is the result of inaccurate reporting or embellishment on the part of the author.

"The Bermuda Triangle or Devil’s Triangle is a mythical geographic area located off the southeastern coast of the United States. It is noted for an apparent high incidence of unexplained losses of ship, small boats, and aircraft," The U.S. Coast Guard says on its website.

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"The Coast Guard does not recognize the existence of the so-called Bermuda Triangle as a geographic area of specific hazard to ships or planes. In a review of many aircraft and vessel losses in the area over the years, there has been nothing discovered that would indicate that casualties were the result of anything other than physical causes. No extraordinary factors have ever been identified."

In a 2013 study, the World Wide Fund for Nature identified the world's most dangerous shipping routes. The Bermuda Triangle was not included on this list.

Sources: CNN | The Associated Press | Reuters | U.S. Coast Guard | NBC News

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