Virginia Beach man aboard ship lost in the storm

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – One of the 33 on the SS El Faro, which is believed to have sunk during Hurricane Joaquin, is 34-year-old Richard Pusatere.

Coast Guard crews continue searching for possible survivors, including Pusatere. He is a Ships Officer on the SS El Faro and is a 2003 alumnus of SUNY Maritime College. Pusatere moved to Virginia Beach in 2007.

His family offered 8News sister station WAVY-TV 10 this statement with great hopes that he returns home alive:

He is a proud husband, father, son and friend. The family has a strong support group and is thankful for the continued prayers of comfort and hope. If you know Rich, you know there is hope. We are not giving up.”

The ship was headed from Jacksonville to San Juan when it disappeared near the Bahamas.

El Faro set sail last Tuesday, moving towards what was then Tropical Storm Joaquin. Thursday morning communication was lost in what had grown to Hurricane Joaquin.

One of the last messages that came in was that the ship had lost propulsion, was taking on water, but the flooding had been contained.

John Cooper served on the El Faro in maintenance, “It’s pitiful, it’s hurtful, and it’s bothering me right now, and sometimes it makes me very upset, and gets me very emotional because that was my last ship before I retired.”

Cooper says he got a call from his union headquarters, Seafarers International Union, last Thursday letting him know there were issues in the engine room, which Cooper says had been an on going concern, “If they were having trouble keeping the generator, or keeping the boiler lit to allow the ship to turn the propeller then there was certainly something going on in the engine room.”

Cooper’s concerns about the engine room involve five international workers who were on board to actually prepare the engine room for a retrofitting. Could that work have caused the loss of power that led to the U.S. container ship’s sinking? That answer is not known yet but that will certainly be part of the investigation.

Cooper is disappointed even when Joaquin was a tropical storm that decisions were made to head towards possible danger, “When the crew has their concern, and the captain and the company say we need to do what we need to do because we need to get this ship to the destination because of the cargo…then that’s what they do…they go.”

A lost crew member’s mother supports the captain’s decision to set sail, “Hey, I get e-mails from my daughter [who is 34-year-old Second Mate Danielle Randolph] and she says ‘we are going into a tropical storm or the seas and waves are really rough. Hey Mom we are going for another fun ride’ they have to do it or nothing would ever get delivered,” says Laurie Bobillot.

Cooper doesn’t agree, “Everything I’ve been hearing is why did the ship leave the dock whether it was a category four hurricane or a small hurricane, why did the ship leave the dock?”

One crew member was found dead in a flotation suit, they found a life ring, and a heavily damaged lifeboat which indicates the horrific power the crew faced.

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