- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006

Federal and state officials yesterday continued an aerial search over the Chesapeake Bay for missing newspaper publisher and former diplomat Philip Merrill, whose sailboat was found adrift hours after he was scheduled to dock.

Officials say the engine was running and Mr. Merrill’s wallet was on board when the 41-foot boat, Merrilly, was discovered 25 miles south of Annapolis near Breezy Point in Calvert County.

Mr. Merrill, 72, is known in Washington journalism circles as the mercurial publisher of Washingtonian magazine as well as the Capital newspaper in Annapolis and five other newspapers in Maryland. His name graces the University of Maryland’s journalism program. His service to Republican presidents includes stints as assistant secretary-general of NATO in Brussels and, until last year, as head of the Export-Import Bank.

“It’s my understanding the boom was secure and the vessel was under power,” a Coast Guard official in Annapolis said of Mr. Merrill’s drifting sailboat.

The sails were down when the ship was escorted to land, but it was not clear whether they were lowered by those who found the craft.

The Coast Guard began the search at 6:30 p.m. Saturday after Mr. Merrill’s wife, Eleanor, reported that he was several hours overdue, Coast Guard Senior Chief Steve Carleton said.

Small-boat advisories were in effect Saturday, and Bay waters churned in the afternoon with whitecaps and waves up to 4 feet, with winds that gusted at times up to 30 knots.

The Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary divided manpower yesterday to patrol the annual Great Chesapeake Bay Swim and continued the search for Mr. Merrill by air with the assistance of the Air Force’s auxiliary Civil Air Patrol and Maryland Department of Natural Resources aircraft.

The small-boat advisory remained in effect yesterday, with diminished winds but a swift current.

“We’re still searching; there is no indication we are going to suspend it,” Chief Carleton said.

One boater who set sail at 5:30 p.m. Saturday said conditions at the time were “not bad.”

“It felt like the wind was blowing maybe 15 to 20 knots, and the waves were about 2 feet,” the boater said. “It was entirely manageable; it was not a huge problem out there.”

“It’s terrible,” he said about the missing sailor.

Water temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay are warm enough that Mr. Merrill could have survived a spill if he were wearing a life jacket. However, reports indicate that Mr. Merrill customarily did not.

“We don’t always find them,” said one Coast Guard member, who explained that an engine running with the sails down could indicate that Mr. Merrill was experiencing heavy winds.

Tom Marquardt, executive editor of the Capital newspaper, could not be reached for comment.

“If there was anyone who could captain a boat competently alone, it was Phil,” Mr. Merrill’s wife and children said in a statement released by Mr. Marquardt.

Mr. Merrill “has been an avid yachtsman since he first learned to sail at age 7” and “has been actively cruising the Chesapeake since 1958,” the family said. “He just couldn’t resist a sunny day with the wind at his back.”

“We are very concerned and hoping for the best,” James Brown, president and general manager of Capital-Gazette Newspapers told the Capital. “Our prayers are with the family.”

Mr. Merrill took leave from his publishing duties in December 2002, when he was sworn in by Vice President Dick Cheney as president and chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. He stepped down when his term expired in 2005.

He served as assistant secretary-general of NATO in Brussels from 1990 to 1992. From 1983 to 1990, he served on the Department of Defense Policy Board. From 1981 to 1983, he was counselor to the undersecretary of defense for policy. In 1988, the secretary of defense awarded him the Medal for Distinguished Service, the highest civilian honor given by the department.

Mr. Merrill represented the United States in negotiations on the Law of the Sea Conference, the International Telecommunications Union and disarmament and exchange agreements with the Soviet Union. He is a former special assistant to the deputy secretary of state and worked in the White House on national security affairs.

The college of journalism at the University of Maryland was named for him, as was the headquarters of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation — both after multimillion-dollar donations.

Mr. Merrill graduated from Cornell University and the Harvard Business School’s Program for Management Development.

His three grown children — Douglas, Cathy and Nancy — were with his wife at the family’s home yesterday.

The initial search of the bay involved a Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Atlantic City, N.J., and an aircraft from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The search continued yesterday between the Severn River and Chesapeake Beach with a Coast Guard C-130 airplane from Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C., an HH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Atlantic City and vessels from Coast Guard Station Annapolis and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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