The search for the El Faro’s “black box” suffered a setback Tuesday as the National Transportation Safety Board reported that the cargo ship’s navigation bridge, which contained the voyage data recorder, separated from the vessel when it sank off the Bahamas in 15,000 feet of water last month.

While the Navy’s CURV 21, a remotely operated submersible, has confirmed that the vessel is the El Faro, the device also determined that the navigation bridge, and the deck below it, are not with the wreckage found Saturday.

“The team has reviewed sonar scans of the nearby debris field and has not identified any targets that have a high probability of being the missing navigation bridge structure,” said Eric M. Weiss, a spokesman for the NTSB in Washington, D.C. “Future plans are to redeploy the Orion side scan sonar system to generate a map of the debris field to locate the navigation bridge structure.”

Similar to an airplane’s black box, a ship’s VDR collects data from various sensors on a vessel. If it can be found, the device will give NTSB investigators valuable information about the events leading up to ship’s sinking during Hurricane Joaquin with 33 crew members, including four Mainers, aboard.

Michael Davidson of Windham, the ship’s captain, Danielle Randolph, 34, of Rockland, Michael Holland, 25, of Wilton, and Dylan Meklin, 23, of Rockland all were graduates of Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, as was a fifth crew member, Mitchell Kuflik, of Brooklyn, New York.

Weiss confirmed Tuesday that the VDR was installed in the El Faro’s navigation bridge. The VDR emits a sonar ping that has a minimum battery life of 30 days. The El Faro was reported lost at sea on Oct. 1.

The NTSB has contracted with the Navy to locate the El Faro, document the wreckage and debris field, and recover the voyage data recorder.

On Saturday, a search team on board the Navy ocean tug Apache, using the Orion side scan sonar system, found the wreckage of the El Faro at a depth of about 15,000 feet near its last known location off the Bahamas.

Weiss, in an update posted Tuesday, said the El Faro is in an upright position with its stern buried in about 30 feet of sediment.

“We have to keep searching for that part of the ship,” Weiss said. “We are going to do our best to find it.”


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