JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Federal investigators have found the data recorder for the cargo ship El Faro, nearly seven months after the ship sunk in waters off the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin and killed all 33 people on board.

According to a news release from the National Transportation Safety Board, the recorder was discovered early Tuesday morning – the same day the current search was scheduled to end.

Investigators hope the data recorder, once retrieved and evaluated, will help them better understand what happened during the ship’s final journey on Oct. 1, 2015.

“Finding an object about the size of a basketball almost three miles under the surface of the sea is a remarkable achievement,” NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart said in a statement, praising the assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Science Foundation, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and other agencies that assisted.

The El Faro, a 790-foot cargo ship that made regular trips between Jacksonville, Florida and Puerto Rico, was captained by Michael Davidson, 53, of Windham. Four other crew members with Maine ties also were aboard the ship: Dylan Meklin, 23, and Danielle Randolph, 34, of Rockland, Michael Holland, 25, of Wilton, and Mitchell Kuflik, 26, of Brooklyn, New York. All were graduates of Maine Maritime Academy in Castine.

Crews searched for the El Faro beginning in early October last year after communication was lost during Hurricane Joaquin, which produced heavy seas and 155 mph winds. During those initial searches, investigators found debris such as life rings and a large oil sheen but the data recorder remained elusive until Tuesday. It was found in 15,000 feet of water about 36 nautical miles northeast of Acklins and Crooked Islands in the Bahamas.

Key questions remain about routing decisions made by Davidson, who apparently steered the ship closer to the path of the storm. The NTSB held 10 days worth of hearings in February to try and determine what happened but the Coast Guard, now armed with the critical data recorder, will hold another round of hearings – likely next month. According to the NTSB, the type of data recorder mounted on El Faro’s mast is capable of recording conversations and sounds on the ship’s navigation bridge.