Search and rescue teams have discovered debris which appears to belong to the cargo ship El Faro, which went missing in the Bermuda Triangle in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin on Thursday 1 October.
In a statement, Tim Nolan, president of Tote Maritime, the company that owns the ship, said that while debris had been found, there was no sighting of the ship, any lifeboats, or the 33 people on board.
Relatives of the ship's crew gathered at the seafarers' union hall in Jacksonville, Floirda, where they were briefed by the Coast Guard and representatives from Tote Maritime.
Family members were overwhelmed, with many sobbing and hugging each other after hearing the news.
"That's my son out there," one overwhelmed woman said outside the hall as she walked to a nearby hotel.
The debris found consisted of life jackets, shipping containers and an oil sheen. It was found by Coast Guard airvews flying over the Bahamas, in the third day of their search for the ship.
"The debris is scattered about over several miles," said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss. "It's going to take some time to verify. The items would appear to be consistent with the missing ship."
The 224-metre ship was heading to San Juan, Puerto Rico from Jacksonville when it reported to the Coast Guard that it was losing propulsion and taking on water.
The last anyone has heard from the ship was a distress call made at 7:30am on Thursday morning. Since then, search efforts have covered more than 30,000 square miles.
The ship was sailing through the middle of Hurricane Joaquin when it disappeared. The Hurricane battered the Bahamas archipelago with 130mph winds for more than two days.
Conditions early in the search were poor as the hurricane continued to churn the sea. However, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss said that conditions are now "ideal" for search and rescue operations.
Mike Hanson, a spokesman for Tote Maritime, said he was "very surprised" that all contact had been lost with the ship, which was fitted with an onboard transponder, a satellite phone and GPS devices on all the containers.
28 of the people on board the missing ship are American citizens, and the other five are Polish nationals.
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