Nine men, including the captain of the Atlantic Conveyor,...

LONDON -- Nine men, including the captain of the Atlantic Conveyor, are now feared to have died in an Argentine missile attack although the government said today the merchant ship was still afloat.

The Defense Ministry reported the Atlantic Conveyor 'is still afloat, upright and appears to have normal draft.'


Ministry spokesman Ian McDonald said two Exocet missiles were fired at the vessel 'but only one seems to have hit.' He said investigations about recovering cargo and salvaging the ship were being made.

A Cunard spokesman said Capt. Ian North, 57, and four other crewmen were missing in the South Atlantic. Four others, three British soldiers and one merchant seaman, were officially reported by the government to have died in the attack Tuesday.

North, who liked to be called 'Capt. Birdseye' after a current television commercial in Britain, originally was thought to have survived the attack. Believing him safe, his elderly mother, Dorothy, celebrated Wednesday night at the family home in Doncaster, Yorkshire.

But a spokesman for Cunard, owners of the 14,950-ton ship, said latest reports indicated North and four other crewmen were missing.

One of North's colleagues said it was likely North died whle helping other seamen escape the stricken ship.


'His concern would have been to see that other people on the ship got off safely before worrying about himself,' said Capt. William Lucas, who knew North for more than 20 years.

North, whose weather-beaten, gray-bearded face suggested the typical sea dog, had spent all his working life in the merchant navy and served in World War II. He first went to sea in 1939 at the age of 14.

Four weeks ago, he and his 34-man crew left Liverpool with a cargo of 20 Harrier jets.

'Everyone is raring to go,' North said in a parting statement. 'The men have the right to refuse -- but not one did.'

A Cunard spokeswoman in Liverpool said North was highly regarded, both as a sailor and a man.

'He was a very dear friend and his crew regarded him as a god,' said Jenny Kemp. 'When the ship was requisitioned for the Falklands, they all volunteered. They could not wait. It was a very happy ship and they would have gone with him anywhere.'

Atlantic Conveyor was the British task force's first merchant ship casualty. The task force, sent to recover the Falkland Islands from Argentine occupation, also has lost four warships -- HMS Sheffield, HMS Ardent, HMS Antelope and HMS Coventry


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