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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Canada Investigates Far East Tanker

BOSTON — A Canadian police team rappelled down the hull of a Russian-owned tanker Friday to scrape a paint sample that could determine whether the tanker was involved in a fatal collision that killed three fishermen, a U.S. Coast Guard official said.

The operation was part of a search warrant executed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the M.T. Virgo, said U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral George Naccara.

The Cypriot-flagged ship, docked at an oil refinery in Come By Chance, Newfoundland, is suspected of ramming the fishing vessel Starbound on Aug. 5 about 210 kilometers off of Cape Ann in northeastern Massachusetts.

The Starbound sank within minutes and only the skipper survived.

Investigators will compare the paint scraped from the Virgo's hull to samples from the Starbound's sister ship, which has the same paint, Naccara said.

"We will have a very good identification of that paint and its source," he said. "If that matches the paint on the hull of the Virgo, I would say that's very incriminating evidence."

Meanwhile, Atlantic-Mariner Inc., the owner of the Starbound, filed a $105 million suit against the Primorsk Shipping Corp., owners of the Virgo, in a Canadian court Friday, the Boston Herald reported in its online edition.

Carey Dearnley, spokeswoman for Primorsk, said she couldn't comment on the lawsuit because of the ongoing investigation.

She also refused to comment on the search warrant, saying only that the Coast Guard still hadn't cleared eight other vessels that may have been in the area of the collision.

The Coast Guard identified 30 vessels that might have been in the area, and cleared 21.

Dearnley said divers hired by the company to examine the ship's hull could not find any conclusive evidence that the Virgo had collided with the 25-meter Starbound.

Naccara said police boarded the ship around noon for a search expected to take several hours. They collected evidence including records and log books that would determine the 160-meter Virgo's course and location. They were looking for erasures, missing pages, or breaks in the record-keeping, Naccara said.

Crew members were also questioned, he said. "The report I have received is that they have been cooperative," Naccara said.

The Virgo is not allowed to leave Newfoundland while the investigation continues. Naccara would not say what was found in the search, and said he did not know how long it would take to analyze the paint samples. The FBI is involved in the investigation, Naccara said.

No charges have been filed. Coast Guard Captain John Astley, the district's legal officer, said if charges are filed, they could range from negligent operation of a vessel to manslaughter.

Captain Joe Marcantonio, 35, was the only survivor of the collision. He dived off the vessel, which was based in Maine, just after crew member James Sanfilippo, 36, shouted that a collision was imminent.

Sanfilippo's body was recovered. Crewmen Mark Doughty, 33, and Tom Frontiero, 40, who were reportedly asleep below deck when the boat was hit, are missing and presumed dead.

About 200 friends and family members of Sanfilippo gathered at a graveside service for him in Maine on Friday.