Yoon S. Byun  /  U.S. Coast Guard via AP
Infrared video shows the Bow Mariner, a commercial tanker carrying 3.5 million gallons of industrial ethanol, sinking after an exploison Saturday night off the coast of Virginia.
updated 3/1/2004 8:37:38 PM ET 2004-03-02T01:37:38

The Coast Guard gave up the search Monday for 18 crewmen missing after a tanker carrying industrial ethanol exploded and sank off the Virginia coast. At least three other crewmen were killed.

“It is my sincere hope the friends and family know we did everything in our power to find their loved ones,” said Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara, a Coast Guard district commander.

The 570-foot Bow Mariner went down Saturday night more than 50 miles east of Chincoteague. The Coast Guard said that the explosion was accidental but that the exact cause was under investigation.

Six survivors were plucked from a life raft on Saturday. The last of them was expected to be released from the hospital Tuesday. The survivors, all men from the Philippines, have declined interview requests.

The Coast Guard searched Saturday night and again on Sunday until nightfall. A C-130 airplane resumed the search shortly before daybreak Monday. The Coast Guard decided to abandon the search in the afternoon.

Only small pieces of debris, such as life jackets, have been found, the Coast Guard said. With the water temperature at 44 degrees, a person could survive several hours depending on health and survival gear, officials said.

Guardsmen did not 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.

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.

The ship 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 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 Bow Mariner was 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.

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