Some stories stick with you. For me, it’s the saga of the Starbound.

Ten years ago Friday, Aug. 5, a herring boat from Rockland and a Russian oil tanker collided during the early morning, about 130 miles off the Massachusetts coast. The ship, the Starbound, carried four fishermen from Maine and Gloucester, Mass. The tanker, the Virgo, was heading from Boston to Newfoundland.

All of the newspaper headlines that followed played on the same detail: There was a scream, coming from the Starbound crew, and then a crash as the Virgo tore into its side. In the maelstrom, three of the fishermen — Tom Frontiero, James Sanfillippo and Mark Doughty — perished. Only the captain, Joe Marcantonio of Gloucester, survived. He scrambled into a lifeboat and was left in the darkness.

The Virgo never stopped.

My first assignment as a working journalist was covering the services for the three fishermen at St. Ann’s Church in Gloucester. I was so nervous that I remember asking Archbishop Bernard Law of Boston, who presided over the ceremony, to repeat, slowly, the spelling of his last name.

I spent three days in Gloucester, wandering around the seafront. The movie adaptation of Sebastian Junger’s bestselling book, “The Perfect Storm,” about lost fishermen from Gloucester had been released the year prior. It had spiked tourism and given rise to weird tragedy-themed businesses. An ice cream parlor near the water, for example, was called “The Perfect Scoop.”


From there, I moved to Maine and the story continued. Three of the tanker’s crew were charged with involuntary manslaughter and held in Newfoundland, with the tanker. Lawsuits flew between the owner of the Starbound, two Maine fishermen and Marcantonio, and the owner of the tanker, a Russian company called Primorsk.

I learned about admiralty law, the rules of the road for vessels at sea, the Canadian judicial system and the peculiar workings of the U.S. Department of Justice. Through it all, however, one part of the story eluded me: the captain. Joe Marcantonio, the lone survivor. I tried to contact him, but he remained silent.

Four years later, he called me.

In 2005, we met in a little coffee shop in downtown Gloucester. He was graduating from college, and part of his transition from fisherman to student was putting his past behind him. It took years, but I finally heard his side of the story. The interview was as exhausting for me as it was for him.

I hadn’t thought about the accident for many years until recently, when I was cleaning a shelf at my office at home and found a yellowed folder filled with notes, clips and photos about the Starbound and Virgo. It was only then that I realized the anniversary was fast approaching.

There hasn’t been another accident like it, to my knowledge. The Russian sailors who were charged with man-slaughter were released on bail from Newfoundland, returned to Russia, and the charges eventually were dropped.


I would have loved to have heard their side of the story.

A month after the accident came the attacks of 9/11, so the public attention on a weeks-old high seas collision was nearly nil. When I first started reporting on the story, I worked alongside and against reporters from all over the world looking for scraps of information about the crash.

Then all of a sudden, I felt alone in my interest. For a long time, until Joe Marcantonio reached out to speak, it seemed that I was the only person outside of lawyers, families and fishermen who cared about what had happened in that patch of ocean.

But even my interest waned. I moved away from the coast of Maine and more pressing demands came forward. The court cases were settled, payouts were made and the world moved on.

Even the Virgo received a second chance. The tanker was repainted, renamed and put back into service.

It still could be plying the world’s oceans, for all I know.

I still wonder about that night. What was it that set such an unprecedented accident in motion? On the wide swath of sea, each ship was infinitesimal. A second here or there, a bit of extra wave or weather, and they would have passed by each other silently, just two shapes in the inky blackness of the Atlantic.

Instead, 10 years ago, there was a scream and then a crash.

Anthony Ronzio is editor and publisher of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email to [email protected]

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