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Sunday, February 29, 2004

Tanker explosion 

Oh hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Coast Guard launched a massive sea search Saturday for 18 missing crew after a chemical tanker carrying 11,000 tons of industrial ethanol exploded off the Virginia coast, killing three.
Eighteen souls are either alive and desperately hoping for rescue, or lost to the deep tonight. As one who knows the sea, I can somewhat imagine what it must be like, in an abstract way. The ocean is big, dark, and empty, and I've always thought that watching your ship slip under the waves on a cold, dark night must give rise to the loneliest of human emotions.

But I also know that the will to live can do amazing things. A family friend was a tugboat captain, and about 13 years ago, on a trip from Boston to the boat's home port in Maine, the boat sank 30 miles off the Maine coast on a cold January night. He and the two other men aboard fought to stay alert and alive in the freezing water and subzero air and they were eventually rescued.

And I know that seafaring people take care of their own. The tugboat crew was rescued by fishermen from a nearby island who, hearing the distress call on their marine-band radios, got up from their family dinner tables and went to sea on that brutal night in search of three strangers in need.

I know, too, that sometimes salvation comes from above. When the tugboat sank, a wooden ladder floated free of the deck, giving the three men something to hold onto for flotation. Their rescue was ultimately the result of an odd twist of fate. One of the men had gotten a flashlight from his daughter for Christmas, not even a month earlier. In the chaos of the boat's sinking, he had forgotten about the flashlight, but it somehow became frozen to the side of his glove, and as the three men clung to the ladder, the light shone straight up into the sky. That flashlight provided a beacon that guided a trio of fisherman to find the men and rescue them from the cold sea.

The flashlight might just be a lucky coincidence, but I'm inclined to believe otherwise. Especially since the man who brought the flashlight was a late addition to the trip, after another man declined an invitation. The coincidences are piled too high for me to think they are just coincidences.

What does this have to do with the tanker that sank off Virginia tonight? Well, men are in trouble at sea, or at least I hope they are in trouble, and not already dead. Others are out there in the darkness looking for them. And I pray that luck, or providence, or whatever you wish to call it, will see them through to safety.
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