The Xunta of Galicia, the government of the northeast of Spain will declare a day of mourning in the region following the sinking of the trawler Villa de Pitanxo, off Newfoundland, with the loss of ten lives and another eleven who remain missing. The tragedy occurred on Tuesday in the midst of a North Atlantic storm, and despite a huge rescue effort only three out of 24 crew members managed to survive under hypothermal conditions.
Search operations are ongoing to locate the rest of the crew of the sunken vessel, Spanish government spokeswoman Isabel Rodriguez said. The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax said the harsh weather, poor visibility, and waves over five meters impeded the search early Tuesday, but conditions improved throughout the day.
The water temperature is the biggest problem. Survivability in these water temperatures is quite short, said. Stephen Waller, the acting regional supervisor of maritime search and rescue with JRCC Halifax. He added the search continued overnight, but as time passes the chance of finding any survivors gets slimmer.
Waller said multiple air and marine resources are currently assisting in the search for the rest of the crew. Marine resources include three fishing vessels, an offshore supply ship, a coast guard vessel, and a Canadian navy frigate. Air resources include three helicopters rotating in and out depending on crew and fuel needs, two Hercules aircraft, and one PAL aircraft.
According to Waller, there were two life rafts on board the vessel, and the three survivors were located on one of them. Three of the deceased were also found on a life raft, while the other four were recovered from the water.
The 50-meter-long fishing boat, 850 gross tonnages built in 2004, operates out of the northwest Galician fisheries hub Marin and sank around 1 a.m. ET in rough seas, the regional representative of the Spanish government, Maica Larriba, told Spanish public radio. She said the crew comprised 16 Spaniards, 5 Peruvians, and at least 3 Ghanaians.
Earlier on Tuesday, Lt.-Cmdr. Brian Owens, senior public affairs officer with the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax, said the JRCC learned of an emergency beacon coming from a fishing vessel about 250 nautical miles, or 460 kilometers, east of St. John's shortly after midnight on Tuesday.
At that time, the JRCC dispatched a CH149 Cormorant helicopter, a Hercules aircraft, and the Canadian Coast Guard ship Cygnus. Other fishing vessels in the area assisted in the search too, Owens said.
The head of the Galicia Xunta, Alberto Nuñez Feijo said the loss of Villa de Pitanxo was a human tragedy, and working at sea is a heroic task. He anticipated that on Wednesday the cabinet would declare regional mourning, and thanked the Spanish King and prime minister for their concern and condolences.
The vessel belongs to the Grupo Nores from Marin and is a member of the Vigo fishing vessels owners association, ARVI. The Group according to its website operates in waters off Argentina, Canada (black halibut), Morocco, Guinea-Bissau, and Senegal as well as in the North Sea. Refinitiv data shows the Villa del Pitanxo left the Galician port of Vigo on Jan. 26.
The sinking comes 40 years to the day after 84 men died in the sinking of the Ocean Ranger, an oil rig off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Newfoundland is in what is described in meteorological terms the storm track. An investigation into the oil rig disaster concluded a string of events contributed, among which severe weather conditions, badly designed oil rig, and untrained crew for such conditions.