Canada's naval authorities have stopped searching for survivors of the Spanish fishing trawler “Villa de Pitanxo” which sank abruptly off Newfoundland Tuesday, it was announced.
Only three people out of a crew of 24 have survived the Spanish vessel's sinking in the early hours of Tuesday 250 miles off the Canadian coast of Newfoundland. Nine bodies have been retrieved and 12 sailors are still missing.
Experts have warned it was still too early to determine the causes of the accident but nevertheless there was consensus that the ship was engulfed by the North Atlantic waters in around 13 minutes.
The Galicia-based vessel, built in 2004, suffered a blow from the sea at the stern while the crew was collecting the catch. “The sinking was very sudden, very fast,” explained Javier Touza, president of the Vigo shipowners guild. Bad weather, with 10-meter waves and 80 km/h winds seems to be the main cause behind the tragedy.
It is yet unknown whether the missing crew members had time to put on their emergency suits, but that is something that takes a while and it all went very fast, a Galician expert told reporters.
The survivors have been identified as skipper Juan Padín, his nephew Eduardo Rial and a sailor from Ghana, Samuel Kwesi Koufi, who are still in shock aboard one of the rescue ships.
Padín was on the bridge directing half of the crew, who was aft collecting the catches while the other half was inside the fishing boat resting, according to La Voz de Galicia. The sea was very rough, with huge waves but no worse than other times, it was reported.
While the sailors were pulling cables to raise the catch, a surge of sea came through the stern ramp filling the boat with water in the blink of an eye. At that time, the deck compartments are open and there is a lot of weight and gear on the deck, which could have contributed to the sudden sinking of the ship.
If the shipwreck is confirmed to have happened this way, it would explain why those on the bridge survived. The first to fall into the water would be the sailors who were fishing and those inside may never have had a chance to get out.
Some experts also pointed out the Villa de Pitanxo was not carrying much cargo, which in rough weather wobbles sideways making ships unstable.
Canadian authorities also announced Wednesday the search for survivors had been halted 36 hours after the sinking due to harsh weather conditions, which make it impossible to find survivors. The crew is now officially listed asa missing at sea.
“Regrettably, at 4 pm AST… following an exhaustive search by a significant number of SAR aircraft and vessels over the last 36-plus hours, covering over 900 square nautical miles, the search for the 12 missing fishers aboard the FV Villa de Pitanxo has been suspended,” explained Lt Cmdr Brian Owens, a spokesman for the Halifax rescue centre. He added the region was experiencing 74kp/h winds and sea swells up to 5.5m.
The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax originally reported late on Tuesday that the death toll had risen to ten, but Spain’s maritime rescue service said there had been an error in the count and that Canadian officials had lowered it to nine confirmed deaths. “It appears that the error was due to the fact that the recovery of the bodies was carried out by different boats and that one body was counted twice,” Jose Luis Garcia, director of Spain’s maritime rescue service, told Spanish broadcaster TVE.
Spanish Agriculture and Fishing Minister Luis Planas and local fishing officials described the sunken boat as “modern” and prepared to withstand the typically harsh weather of the area. Planas said it was the “worst tragedy for our fishing fleet in 38 years.”
The crew included 16 Spaniards, five Peruvians, and three workers from Ghana, according to Spain’s maritime rescue service.
Spain’s parliament held a minute of silence at the opening of Wednesday’s session for the fishermen, while northwest Galicia, which has a strong fishing industry, declared three days of mourning.