Spain's Fisheries Minister Luis Planas has called the sinking of the “Villa de Pitanxo“ off the coast of Canada the ”worst tragedy for our fishing fleet in 38 years”. At least nine sailors have died and a dozen remain missing after the vessel fishing for black halibut sank on Monday night early Tuesday some 450 kilometers from Newfoundland.
The 50-metre long vessel had 24 crew members on board, including 16 Spanish sailors, five from Peru and three from Ghana. Three sailors -- including the ship's captain -- were initially rescued from the scene, while seven were confirmed dead on Tuesday. Canadian rescue services later confirmed that at least two more bodies had been recovered.
Planas and local fishing officials described the Spanish boat as “modern” and designed to withstand the typically harsh weather of the area.
On Wednesday, Canadian authorities decided to call off the exhaustive search after earlier stating that it was unlikely that more survivors would be found given the temperature of the water. .
A search was ongoing for those who are still missing, with the support of a plane, two helicopters, Spanish and Portuguese fishing boats. A Canadian ship and Halifax-based frigate joined in the efforts.
The conditions in the area are windy, rough seas and reduced visibility, the Spanish Salvamento Maritimo said.
The Villa de Pitanxo had been based in the port of Marin in northwestern Spain, region of Galicia where family members had gathered, waiting for news.
Spain’s parliament held a minute's silence on Wednesday, while the Xunta of Galicia declared three days of mourning.
“We are talking about people who knew how to sail, they are professionals, good captains and excellent sailors. So they must have been in very difficult seas,” said Galician regional president Alberto Núñez Feijóo.
Although it is not yet clear what really happened it is believed Villa de Pitanxo was netting black halibut in the midst of the storm with open holds, when a stern wave several meters high plunged on the vessel. In a few minutes she went down on her stern, taking all crew members except those on the bridge.
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