updated 1/18/2006 5:52:49 PM ET 2006-01-18T22:52:49

Two sailors aboard a tugboat died when their boat sank about 40 miles off Cape Fear in gale-force wind and high seas, the Coast Guard said Wednesday as a search continued for one sailor who remained missing.

The 135-foot tugboat Valour began sinking late Tuesday while pulling a 500-foot barge loaded with about 5.5 million gallons of petroleum byproduct.

The tug’s crew called the Coast Guard for help after one sailor fell overboard. That crew member made it back aboard the ship, said Petty Officer Lawrence Chambers. A Coast Guard helicopter rescued another sailor and took him to a hospital in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he remained Wednesday.

Another tugboat rescued five other sailors before the Valour sank. It was not immediately clear when the sailor died.

The body of the second victim was found when the tug’s owner, Maritrans Inc., found the sunken boat. Maritrans, based in Tampa, Fla., said in a statement Wednesday it didn’t know why the boat sank.

The missing sailor was wearing a “survivor suit” that could allow him to remain in the water for up to 30 hours, Chambers said.

The barge was found adrift earlier Wednesday and was secured to another tug. It did not cause any damage while adrift, officials said.

NBC News contributed to this report.

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