Tanker Explosion Search Continues

A U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat searches for survivors of the sunken Bow Mariner off of the coast of Chincoteague, Va., Sunday, Feb. 29, 2004.
The Coast Guard resumed the air search Monday as hopes dimmed for 18 missing crewmen of a tanker carrying 3.5 million gallons of ethanol that exploded at sea, killing three.

The Coast Guard suspended its search of the frigid Atlantic Ocean at nightfall Sunday — nearly 24 hours after the tanker made its distress call. Officials sent up a C-130 again Monday morning shortly before daybreak, Petty Officer Jeff Montgomery said.

Montgomery would not speculate about when the Coast Guard would suspend its search.

"The discussions will be held today on this," Montgomery said. "As of now, we can't speculate."

With the water temperature at 44 degrees, a person could survive several hours depending on health and survival gear, officials said. Six crewmen were rescued within hours of Saturday's explosion.

"Realistically, the longer the search goes on, the less likely it is that we will find anyone who is still alive," Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara, commander of the Coast Guard's 5th District.

Three survivors were in good condition at the hospital and were scheduled to be released Monday, a hospital spokeswoman said Monday morning. Three others were released Sunday morning.

"They look like they've been through an ordeal and they're very introspective about what happened," hospital spokeswoman Vicky Gray said. "They're very quiet, subdued, like you would expect." The rescued crewmen are Filipino and did not speak English

Guardsmen don't yet know how much of the fuel aboard the ship spilled, but they say it was carrying 3.5 million gallons of ethanol, 48,000 gallons of stored diesel fuel and 193,000 gallons of fuel oil.

The ship, the Bow Mariner, was traveling from New York to Houston when it made an emergency call just after 6 p.m. Saturday that there had been an explosion, Coast Guard officials said.

Lt. Chris Shaffer of Ocean City, Md., Emergency Services said the explosion came after a fire started on the ship's deck. The 570-foot tanker then sank about 200 feet to the ocean's bottom.

Two crewmen died at hospitals in Maryland and the third died aboard a private fishing vessel that went to the scene, Coast Guard and hospital officials said.

The Singapore-flagged ship is a chemical tanker built in 1982 and is managed by a Greek company, Ceres Hellenic Shipping Enterprises Ltd. A company spokesman said the ship had a crew of 24 Filipinos and three Greeks.

It was unclear how much ethanol spilled into the ocean, but Coast Guard officials said the substance would largely dissipate at sea with minor environmental impact. Fuel from the tanker that spilled when the ship sank also was dissipating, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

By Sonja Barisic