Search and rescue teams were expected to continue operating overnight after 10 members of a Spanish fishing boat died and 11 were missing in the icy waters of the North Atlantic east of Newfoundland.
The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax updated the number of dead Tuesday night after three more bodies were recovered from the sunken vessel.
“Our thoughts go out to all the families of this crew,” the centre said on Twitter.
The search was to continue in the area 460 kilometres east of St. John’s, Lt.-Cmdr. Brian Owens, a spokesman for the centre in Halifax, said in an interview.
“One of the advantages overnight is you can potentially spot flares or strobe lights,” Owens said.
Three survivors were located in a life raft by another Spanish fishing boat in the area since the first distress signal was received just after midnight Tuesday.
Owens said it wasn’t known whether the survivors would be taken to St. John’s or back to Spain. He had no word on their condition.
Earlier in the day, he said a debris field had been located in the North Atlantic.
“It has allowed us to focus our efforts and centralize our search,” Owens said, adding that some life-jackets, fishing equipment, gear and an empty life-raft were found at the site.
Owens said the search teams were battling difficult sea conditions, adding that the region was experiencing 74-kilometre-per-hour winds and sea swells of 5.5 metres. “The visibility has decreased with fog so it is making it a little bit challenging on the water.”
Conditions in that area of the North Atlantic, however, can be much worse, he said.
“Personally, I’ve seen 10- to 15-metre swells,” he said. “Five- to five-and-a-half (metres) is still a bit of a rough ride, depending on the type of vessel you are in. The Spanish fishing vessels that are assisting in this search are designed for this weather.”
Owens said three Cormorant helicopters were rotating in and out of the area and flying from St. John’s to the Hibernia offshore oilfield and then out to the search site. He said a provincial airlines aircraft and a C130 Hercules out of Greenwood, N.S., were flying overhead doing sensor sweeps.
The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Cygnus was on route to the debris site, he said, where “a number” of Spanish fishing ships have been assisting.
Owens was unable to confirm the name of the missing ship, but authorities in Spain have said the 50-metre vessel Villa de Pitanxo sank at about 1 a.m. Eastern Time in rough seas. Spanish authorities said the ship operates out of Spain’s northwestern Galicia region.
The news was a tragic blow to the port town of Marin in northwestern Galicia, where many make their living from the sea. Marin Mayor Maria Ramallo said the sinking of the boat was the biggest tragedy on record for the community.
“We can’t remember anything worse than this,” Ramallo told Spain’s state news agency, EFE.
Those rescued were in one of the vessel’s four lifeboats, while two other lifeboats were found empty and the fourth was unaccounted for.
Spanish officials said the sunken vessel’s crew included 16 Spaniards, five Peruvians and three workers from Ghana. The owner of the fishing boat, Grupo Nores, wasn’t immediately available for comment.
In a statement, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said that he spoke with Spain’s ambassador to Canada, Alfredo Martinez, to convey condolences on behalf of the people of his province.
“Like the people of Spain, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a historic attachment to the sea,” he said. “An attachment that is fruitful, but which all too often results in tragedy.”
The premier expressed hope that more of the crew would be found alive. “Our thoughts are with the families of the crew members and we share their grief.”
The sinking comes on the 40th anniversary of the sinking of the Ocean Ranger oil rig on Newfoundland’s Grand Banks, about 315 kilometres east of St. John’s, on Feb. 15, 1982. The rig was demolished by high winds and massive waves, which led to the deaths of 84 men.
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