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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The U.S. Coast Guard is scouring the Atlantic Ocean for a container ship from Jacksonville that was disabled near the eye of Hurricane Joaquin in the Bahamas.

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The U.S.-flagged ship named the “El Faro” has 33 crew members, including 28 U.S. citizens and five Polish nationals. The 735-foot ship was due in San Juan, Puerto Rico Friday.

“This vessel was disabled right near the eye of Hurricane Joaquin right next to where the strong winds are,” said Capt. Mark Fedor, who is Chief of Response for the Coast Guard 7th District Command Center in Miami.

Fedor told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, “You would assume in very severe conditions with Joaquin with up to 140 mile per hour winds it could have destroyed all of the communications equipment. So we’re not able to communicate with them. That’s our biggest concern.”

The Coast Guard said the ship may be near Crooked Island in the Bahamas.

Fedor said the Coast Guard received an electronic distress alert that the ship had lost propulsion and had a 15-degree list. The crew reported that the ship had previously taken on water but that all the flooding had been contained.

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“The challenge is when you are disabled at sea you are totally vulnerable to the sea state and there are 20 and 30 foot waves out there,” said Fedor. “We contacted the shipping agent for the vessel and they told us the vessel had taken on water on board through a hatch and they had a 15-degree list.”

That’s when the Coast Guard launched the search. At first, two Air Force C-130 hurricane hunters were used.

“As soon as we saw the hurricane moving north and we saw that this morning, we put a C-130 as close to the storm as possible,” said Fedor. “They’re a hurricane hunter aircraft and they were flying at 10,000 feet.”

The Coast Guard also launched an HC-130 air crew out of Clearwater, but rescue crews have not been able to make contact with the crew of the “El Faro.”

“They are flying down at 2,000 feet which is pushing the operational envelope of what they’re supposed to fly,” said Fedor. “They are pushing the safety limits to place eyes on the vessel using very sophisticated radar systems to penetrate the precipitation and the winds to locate the vessel.

“We are continuing to be as aggressive as we can and probe as much as we can to get to the vessel’s last known position. We are also working very closely with the ship agent, Tote Services who are dealing with the family members.”

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Fedor hopes the intensive efforts will pay off in the search for the ship caught near the eye of Hurricane Joaquin.

Peter D'Oench