The Coast Guard received a frantic mayday call from the tanker around 6 p.m. on Feb. 28, alerting them to a fire on board. The caller said he planned to jump overboard. The tanker, named the Bow Mariner, exploded in a fireball that could be seen for 12 miles and within 90 minutes of the explosion, sank 200 feet to the bottom of the ocean.
The Bow Mariner was traveling from New York to Houston with a load of 3.5 million gallons of ethanol and a crew of Filipino and Greek sailers when it exploded. Two crewmen died at hospitals shortly after being pulled from the sea, and one died on board a fishing vessel that came to the rescue of the tanker. Of the six crewmen known to have survived, three have already been released from the hospital. The others are listed in good condition and should be released March 1.
Rescuers are losing hope of finding any of the missing crewman alive, because the water temperature is 44 degrees. The search was briefly suspended Feb. 29, but resumed March 1.
"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, told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper.
In addition to its cargo of ethanol, the tanker is believed to have been carrying 48,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 193,000 gallons of fuel oil.