Missing Publisher Presumed Dead After Maryland Boating Incident

A publisher and former diplomat who disappeared while sailing alone on Chesapeake Bay was presumed dead Monday after two days of searching turned up nothing but his empty sailboat, authorities said.

Search crews continued to look for Philip Merrill, 72, but the mission was changed to a recovery operation, said Sgt. Ken Turner with the Maryland Natural Resources police.

Authorities said it was unlikely that the chairman of the board of Capital-Gazette Communications Inc. would be found alive. Merrill's sailboat, the "Merrilly," was found adrift Saturday evening, and survival time in the 62-degree water was estimated at 28 hours.

"As time goes by, chances of survival are less and less," Col. Mark S. Chaney, superintendent of the Maryland Natural Resources said Sunday.

Merrill typically followed an 18-mile round trip without wearing a lifejacket, Chaney said. His 41-foot sailboat was spotted adrift near Plum Point, about 25 miles south of Annapolis and 40 miles south of his home in Arnold, officials said.

Rescue crews believe Merrill likely fell overboard since his wallet was on board and there was no damage to the boat, officials said. The wind was gusting up to 25 mph on Saturday, creating conditions that could be difficult for a single sailor alone, Chaney said.

Merrill's family issued a statement saying he had been an avid yachtsman since he first learned to sail at age 7.

"If there was anyone who could captain a boat competently alone, it was Phil," the statement said. "He just couldn't resist a sunny day with the wind at his back."

Annapolis-based Capital-Gazette Communications Inc. publishes Washingtonian magazine, The Capital and five other Maryland newspapers. Merrill took leave from publishing in December 2002 to be president and chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. His term expired last July.

He served as assistant secretary-general of NATO in Brussels from 1990 to 1992 and 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.