'Pray for the crew:' Relatives await definitive news of El Faro's missing

NTSB to investigate El Faro ship disappearance
NTSB to investigate El Faro ship disappearance

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NTSB to investigate El Faro ship disappearance 01:24

Story highlights

  • Cargo ship El Faro sank during Hurricane Joaquin
  • Relatives and friends of those on board are waiting definitive news of their loved ones
  • The company says its thoughts and prayers are with them

(CNN)Katie Griffin expected her husband, a seafarer on the cargo ship El Faro, home soon. They had plans to go to the doctor to learn the gender of the twins she's carrying.

Keith Griffin called Katie last Wednesday night after he ate dinner. He said he'd be up late because the weather was getting bad. "He told me he loved me, and that's the last time I heard from him," she said.
About a week later, she is coming to grips with awful news. El Faro sank as Hurricane Joaquin churned in the Atlantic. On Tuesday, nearly a week after she talked to her husband, she is hoping that he may still be alive.
    A massive Coast Guard search is on for survivors. The U.S. Coast Guard has found a body in a survival suit, in the water, within a 225-square-mile debris field consisting of life jackets, life rings, cargo containers and an oil sheen.
    "He's a strong-willed guy," she said. "He'd give you the shirt off his back. He was so excited to become a father."
    Griffin was among the 28 Americans and five Polish nationals who were on board the ship, which disappeared near the Bahamas. The company that operated the 735-foot vessel, Tote Maritime Puerto Rico, has not released their names.
    Tuesday morning, friends and relatives of El Faro crew members gathered in a conference room at a Marriott hotel in Jacksonville, Florida. The Red Cross fed them. Members of the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board officials also were in the building. News crews were kept at a distance.
    Americans among missing on cargo ship lost at sea
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    Americans among missing on cargo ship lost at sea 02:35
    Griffin graduated from Massachusetts Maritime Academy, his wife said. Jeffrey Mathias, also on board, attended the academy.
    The Mathias family issued a statement, thanking people for love and support.
    "Jeffrey is our beloved son, brother, loving husband and father. He is the center of our world. All of his friends, family, nieces, nephews, as well as his three children ages 3, 5, and 7, his wife, brother, and parents ask for your continued prayers as well as continued respect for our privacy during this difficult time," it read.
    Academy President Francis McDonald, appeared Tuesday on CNN. He said students repeatedly do survival and safety drills. Every cadet knows how to run life boats on any vessel, and they know what to do in case an emergency requires going into the water, he stressed.
    He said he didn't want to speculate about what happened to El Faro. But when a ship of that size is in inclement weather, he said, "they are designed" to withstand conditions, he said.
    Asked why would a ship set out despite a storm on the horizon, he replied, "That's really a decision that I'm sure the investigators will revisit" when they consider all data used to make that call. A ship's captain is trained to prioritize the safety of those on board, and the consider the importance of keeping a schedule, he added.

    'We are all shipmates'

    Laurie Bobillot is weary. Her daughter, Danielle Randolph, was a second mate.
    "All I ask is for you to pray for the crew members," said Bobillot, politely declining to say more.
    Faye Cummings spoke lovingly about her missing grandson, Lonnie Jordan, 33.
    "He would cook. He'd do whatever else was needed on the ship," she said.
    Cummings said Jordan loves his church, family and the sea.
    Tote Maritime Puerto Rico issued a statement saying, "We continue to hold out hope for survivors. Our prayers and thoughts go out to the family members and we will continue to do all we can to support them."
    Those relatives include people such as Barry Young, who told CNN affiliate WJXT that his nephew, Shaun Rivera, was a crew member.
    "We have and still are to this moment holding on hope that just maybe he is one of those still floating out in the ocean and alive," Young said. "Knowing him, he's a fighter. He's not a man that would lay down."
    Young, who is a minister, said he is speaking for the family so Rivera's parents don't have to, according to the affiliate.
    "I have to rely on my faith. Even our pain, there's a lesson to be learned in everything that happens," Young said. "Don't cease in praying. Our prayers are vital. Our prayers are meaningful. Our prayers matter."
    Families gather at the Seafarers International Union Hall in Jacksonville, Florida, to await word.
    In Maine, meanwhile, the sinking has hit hard at a school that trains merchant sailors, the Maine Maritime Academy. The school's president, President William J. Brennan, said the school is trying to confirm reports that several of its graduates were aboard the ship. The academy says four graduates worked for Tote Maritime, but they do not know whether they were aboard the El Faro.
    "I have said to you often that this is a family; we are one community," he wrote. "We help each other and support one another. We are all Mariners and I know we are distressed by what we heard today, but we are also encouraged that the search and rescue effort continues ...we are all shipmates."
    Maine Maritime Academy's Facebook page says the school is hosting a vigil Tuesday evening to keep hope alive.
    Brennan noted that El Faro means "The Lighthouse."
    "I ask this MMA community, a family that stretches around the globe to ships at sea worldwide -- let us all become a beacon of hope for the safe return of her crew."