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Owner of missing cargo ship El Faro asks for company safety audit as search continues for crew, including three with LI ties

Phil Greene, President of TOTE Services & CEO,

Phil Greene, President of TOTE Services & CEO, left, and Tim Nolan, President of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, right, listen as Anthony Chiarello, President & CEO, TOTE, Inc. speaks about about the missing cargo ship El Faro outside the Seafarer's International Union hall in Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Credit: AP / Bruce Lipsky

As the Coast Guard continued searching Tuesday for the missing crew of the El Faro, which disappeared near the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin, the cargo ship's owner said he would hire a maritime firm to do a safety audit of the company.

Tim Nolan, president of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, also said the firm would cooperate with Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board investigations into what happened to the ship, which is presumed lost at sea.

The NTSB will be on site for seven to 10 days, Bella Dinh-Zarr, agency vice chairwoman, said at a news conference Tuesday night in Jacksonville, Florida. The NTSB's "mission is to understand not just what happened, but why it happened and to issue recommendations and findings to prevent this from happening again," she said.

The 790-foot El Faro left Jacksonville Sept. 29 with 33 mariners bound for Puerto Rico. It was last heard from Thursday when the crew reported it had lost propulsion and was listing 15 degrees.

The last communication came at 7:20 that morning, and the Coast Guard said Monday that the ship likely sank after being battered by hurricane-force winds and waves as high as 40 feet.

Four C-130 airplanes, a Navy P-8 Poseidon, three tugboats and two Coast Guard helicopters and three cutters continued searching for survivors Tuesday. Crews had recovered one body, a battered life raft, ring-shaped life buoys, a lifeboat, shipping containers and other items after a search of more than 160,000 square nautical miles.

The crew comprised five Polish and 28 American mariners, including three with ties to Long Island and the Bronx.

On Tuesday, the wife of former East Rockaway resident Howard Schoenly, who now lives in Cape Coral, Florida, shared details about her husband of 20 years.

"He took great pride in being a merchant marine and his work as a second engineer," Karen Schoenly, originally of Oceanside, said in a statement. "He was the most vibrant, colorful person; so full of life. To imagine such a life is gone is unbearable."

Schoenly, who is known as Howie, graduated from East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School in 1984 and worked his way up the merchant marine ranks, starting as a deckhand, said his brother, Steven Schoenly of Freeport.

Two others have local links.

Steven Shultz, who also calls Cape Coral home and is on the crew, graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point in 1984 with a bachelor's in marine transportation.

Also on crew is Richard Pusatere, a 2003 marine engineering graduate of SUNY Maritime College at Fort Schuyler in Throgs Neck, Bronx. "Word on the street was he was a very talented engineer," a maritime source said. "If the ship was to get in trouble, you'd want him."

With Candice Ruud

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