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Sunken ship had enough lifeboats, but storm overpowered it

Crew members trained regularly in calm waters to handle the lifeboats would instead likely have struggled against buffeting by huge 50-foot waves, a vessel taking on water and listing to one side and winds the Coast Guard estimated reached 140 mph. Life rafts can get torn apart. Lifeboats become impossible to drop into the sea.

The options would have quickly grown limited for the crew of the El Faro container ship last week as Hurricane Joaquin approached.

"Sometimes circumstances overwhelm you. You can do all the planning you want," said Steven Werse, a ship captain and secretary-treasurer of the Master Mates and Pilots Union in Linthicum Heights, Maryland. The union is not affiliated with the El Faro's crew or owners.

"Without power, the ship is really at the mercy of the sea," Werse said.

On Monday, four days after the ship vanished, the Coast Guard concluded it sank near the Bahamas in about 15,000 feet of water. One unidentified body in a survival suit was spotted, and the search went on for any trace of the other crew members. The search continued Tuesday.
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