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Search Crews Now Looking for Body of Missing Maryland Publisher Philip Merrill

Recovery operations resumed Tuesday for a Maryland publisher and former diplomat who disappeared over the weekend while sailing the Chesapeake Bay.

Search crews continued to look for Philip Merrill, 72, but rescuers said it was unlikely Merrill was still alive after so many days missing. His abandoned sailboat was discovered Saturday more than a dozen miles south of his planned sailing route, an 18-mile roundtrip from the western shore of Maryland to Kent Island.

Survival time in the 62-degree water was estimated at 28 hours.

Col. Mark S. Chaney, superintendent of the Maryland Natural Resources, said Merrill's family was told Monday morning the search would become a recovery effort. Search crews have been searching a 100 square mile section of the bay since Merrill's boat was discovered.

State Natural Resources Police will continue to search the area from sunrise to sunset, the agency said Tuesday in a release. The search involved six boats, aircraft and side scan sonar to probe the bottom of the bay. Approximately three square miles of the search area had been scanned as of Tuesday afternoon, the agency said.

Merrill was an experienced sailor and went out on a breezy, clear day. The publisher of Washingtonian magazine, The (Annapolis) Capital newspaper and five other Maryland newspapers was sailing alone.

"He had handled that boat in similar conditions with a huge grin on his face," said John Page Williams, who took his boat into the water Monday to help with the search.

Williams is a senior naturalist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a private group that works to restore the bay. Merrill was a longtime benefactor of the group, whose headquarters is named for him. Williams said four boats from the group were helping search.

Merrill's 41-foot sailboat, the "Merrilly," was found drifting in shallow water at about 7:15 p.m. Saturday near Plum Point by two people on personal watercrafts, who boarded the vessel and found no one there, Chaney said. The boat's sails had been up, so they started the engine to get the vessel into deeper water and called authorities.

Chaney said foul play was not suspected. Merrill's sailboat was kept by authorities for examination.

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich said in a statement Monday that he was saddened to learn that Merrill was missing.

"My heartfelt prayers go out to his family during this difficult and uncertain time," the governor said.

Because the search has turned into a recovery mission, the U.S. Coast Guard is no longer assisting, said Lt. Tim Balunis.

In addition to his publishing work, Merrill has had a broad career in public service.

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

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 July.

The college of journalism at the University of Maryland was named for him. Williams said the publisher thought of himself as a newsman.

"For all of his knowledge and interest in foreign affairs, he had a deep interest in local journalism," Williams said. "And he loved to sail. He loved to sail that boat."

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

Merrill is married with three grown children, Douglas, Cathy and Nancy.