El Faro—a 790-foot cargo ship whose name means “lighthouse”—has apparently sunk in the Atlantic Ocean, the U.S. Coast Guard believes.
Rescuers have been searching for the container ship, which was in the path of Hurricane Joaquin, since the crew last made contact Thursday morning, saying El Faro was listing but the situation was manageable. The vessel was carrying 33 people—28 Americans and five Poles—and while searchers have found debris they believe came from the ship, they haven’t found the vessel itself or any survivors. One body has been found.
While nautical disasters remain a fact of life—everything from missing sailboats to deadly catastrophes like the Costa Concordia’s sinking or recent ferry disasters in Asia—it is exceptionally rare for a large ship like El Faro to disappear.
How rare? An analysis of vessels greater than 100 gross tons by the insurance giant Allianz found that in the past 10 years, from 2005 to 2014, only six ships were reported as “missing/overdue”—or, in other words, lost. Three were in 2005. There were none reported in 2011, 2012, 2013, or 2014.
This isn’t to say that ships don’t sink. In 2014, 49 ships “foundered,” which includes sinking or submerging—the largest category of ship losses. But often those are cases where ships sink with some warning, and most or all of the crew can be rescued. The second-largest category is ships that ran aground. (An excellent 2008 Wired story goes inside the world of ship-salvage crews that try to right these vessels.) It’s not an illusion that shipping seems safer these days. The number of total losses has decreased over the last decade.