The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has announced a second search mission to locate the voyage data recorder (VDR) of TOTE Maritime’s cargo ship El Faro, which disappeared during Hurricane Joaquin on 1 October.
The new search mission, which is expected to commence in April and extend over a period of two weeks, aims to locate the VDR that will provide important research details and clues for the investigating team.
NTSB chairman Christopher Hart said: "The voyage data recorder may hold vital information about the challenges encountered by the crew in trying to save the ship.
"Getting that information could be very helpful to our investigation."
During a search operation spearheaded by NTSB in November last year, images of the 790ft ship, and the debris field lying 15,000ft underwater near the Bahamas were captured with a video camera mounted on a remotely operated vehicle.
Research has revealed that the navigation bridge structure and the deck below had detached from the ship and the missing structure also included the mast and its base where the VDR was located.
The second search expedition will scourge an area of approximately 35km² to be photographically and video documented by Sentry, an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV).
The remotely-operated vehicle will be launched from the research vessel Atlantis, which is owned by the US Navy and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).
Sentry has the ability to operate at depths of nearly 20,000ft and is equipped with sonar, camera and other sensors.
The VDR of the missing ship is capable of recording conversations and sounds on the navigation bridge.
Additionally, the investigators hope to obtain high quality images of the bridge, debris field, and hull.
Following the location of the VDR, a subsequent mission will be launched to recover the instrument by employing a remotely operated vehicle.
Image: Life ring of El Faro recovered in October 2015. Photo: courtesy of United States Coast Guard.