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Erin Sinks Gambling Ship, Tug; Three Feared Dead

August 3, 1995 GMT

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AP) _ Eight sailors managed to escape a sinking gambling ship in seas whipped into 20-foot swells by Hurricane Erin. Three others _ the captain, cook and a crewman _ weren’t as lucky.

Coast Guard cutters and aircraft searched Wednesday for the missing crew members of the 234-foot Club Royale, a gambling ship that sank 90 miles northeast of Cape Canaveral.

Seven survivors wearing life jackets were hoisted aboard Coast Guard helicopters and another sailor was picked up by a passing ship, said Petty Officer Scott Carr.

``It was really bad,″ said one of the survivors, Arturo Machado. ``There was more water coming in than we could pump out.″

One sailor almost didn’t make it, said Coast Guard diver Clark Everson.

``This huge _ we’re talking huge _ wave slams him,″ Everson said. ``He goes to the other side of the raft. I thought he was going in the water.″

The divers said they communicated with the crew members by hand signals because few of them spoke English, persuading them to leave the rafts and jump into wire baskets to be hoisted to safety.

Everson said when he first descended into the water, he spotted another raft, but ``it was totally flooded, underwater.″

The survivors were flown to this central Florida military base and taken to hospitals. They were reported to be in good spirits with no serious injuries.

``They were fine. They were walking, they were talking,″ Everson said.

The second engineer of the gambling ship told the Coast Guard the cook, captain and a third crewman never made it off the ship.

The Club Royale, which is equipped with blackjack and other casino games, had put to sea Monday to ride out the storm _ a common shipping industry practice. The ship can carry 450 passengers but had only the crew on board.

Jill Dechello of GAT Marketing in Hollywood, spokeswoman for the Club Royale’s owners, had no immediate details on what happened.

She would not release the owners’ names but said they recently acquired the ship and began sailing it from Palm Beach in July.

Erin also sank a 115-foot tugboat pulling a barge off St. Simons Island, about 70 miles east of Brunswick, Ga., in swells up to 30 feet. The Coast Guard rescued all five crew members in a raft a few miles from the barge.