In its search for the El Faro, a missing cargo ship with 33 people aboard that sailed into the path of Hurricane Joaquin last week, the U.S. Coast Guard reported finding a large field of debris about 100 miles northeast of Samana Cay in the southeastern Bahamas on Sunday.
The ship has been missing since its crew sent a distress signal on Thursday from an area near Crooked Island -- in the same southeastern area of the Bahamas where Joaquin passed as a slow-moving Category 4 storm that destroyed homes and flooded roads over the weekend.
Chief Petty Officer Bobby Nash of the U.S. Coast Guard said search crews, including a C-130 cargo plane, a helicopter and numerous ships, found debris including Styrofoam, wood, cargo and ship fenders across an area measuring about 225 square miles.
Though the Coast Guard has not yet linked the debris to the El Faro, Nash said the finding was "pretty significant for us."
"At this point it's too early to say that it definitely belongs to that ship," Nash said. "It is consistent with things that look like that type of vessel."
The U.S. flagged El Faro, a 790-foot container ship,
was headed to Puerto Rico. Aboard the ship was a crew of 28 Americans and five from Poland.
Joaquin developed into a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of at least 130 mph beginning Thursday afternoon through Friday afternoon. The storm lost some punch before regaining Category 4 wind speeds on Saturday morning through about dawn on Sunday.
The storm swept across a large area of the Bahamas, and its eye passed over Samana Cay in the southeast portion of the island chain.
On Saturday evening, the Coast Guard announced that it had found a life ring belonging to the El Faro, but no sign of the ship itself. The life ring was found 70 miles from the last known location of the ship.