NEW YORK -- A Greek-owned tanker was found split in two and burning out of control in the North Atlantic early Friday, and the body of one of the 25 missing crewmen was recovered 17 hours later with the ship's log, the Coast Guard said.
Coast Guard officials were studying the log for clues to what caused the fire aboard the Athenian Venture, whose last radio message was received Thursday afternoon, officials said.
The 557-foot a Cypriot-registered, Greek-owned tanker was bound for New York with a load of gasoline when it caught fire 800 miles southeast of Nova Scotia, Coast Guard spokesman Larry Lawrence said.
The Canadian research vessel Hudson found the bow and stern of the tanker, which is owned by Patron Marine of Athens, Greece, floating 2 miles apart in international waters at 2 a.m. EDT Friday. A lifeboat missing from the ship's stern gave rescuers hope that the 25 crew members had abandoned the vessel.
'The last radio contact with the tanker was at 3 p.m. Thursday,' Lawrence said.
The badly burned body of one crewman, wearing a lifejacket and carrying personal papers and the ship's log, was found floating in the water by a Dutch freighter, the Jo Cypress, at about 7 p.m. said Coast Guard Lt. Brad Robinson.
The man's identity was not known.
Eight merchant ships and a Canadian research vessel were searching the area and were expected to break for the night about 9 p.m., he said. The search was to resume at 8 a.m. Saturday.
'We found the body where we expected the drift would take them, so we know we're in the right area,' Robinson said, adding that the crewman was floating near where parts of the Athenian Venture were found.
The cause of the disaster was not immediately known. The ship's port of origin was also not known, although it may have been Gibraltar, Lawrence said.
It took Coast Guard officials almost 12 hours to identify the ship after it was sighted because of heavy fire damage and a raging blaze that kept authorites about two miles away from the wreckage.
Lawrence said the only identifiable marks were a big white letter K on the funnel, the first three letters of the first name and the entire last name.
In addition to the Hudson, the Italian merchant ship Italica joined in the search for the survivors. Two Canadian Coast Guard aircraft and a U.S. Coast Guard HerculesC-130 aircraft from Elizabeth City, N.C., were also on the scene.
The Canadian fishing patrol vessel Cape Roger was en route. Two merchant ships -- the Norwegian vessel Jo Lonn and the Polish chemical vessel Stefan Starzynski -- were also expected to join in the search.
Capt. Mike Hubbard, director-general of ship safety for the Canadian Coast Guard, said the vessel was estimated to weigh between 30,000 and 50,000 tons -- 'an average-size tanker.'
The stricken vessel was burning so fiercely that rescue vessels were unable to come closer than 2 miles, Hubbard said.
Although it split in two, both parts of the vessel continued to float and did not appear to be sinking, he said.
'Even if they break in two, tankers have water-tight bulkheads,' he said. 'If the bulkheads stay intact, the pieces will stay afloat.'
There was no immediate indication whether the vessel was carrying a full load of gasoline when the accident occurred.
Searchers aboard the Hudson reported seeing 'lots of oil in the water,' thought to be the ship's fuel.
Rescue operations were aided by good weather Friday -- 9- to 12-foot seas, 20 knot winds and visibility of 12 miles. The water temperature was in the mid-50s.