MADRID – A Spanish fishing boat sank early Tuesday in rough seas off Newfoundland in eastern Canada, killing at least seven people, an official in Spain said. Three crew members were saved from a lifeboat, and a maritime search was launched for the 14 other crew members still missing in heavy seas.
The 50-meter (164-feet) long fishing boat named Villa de Pitanxo, which operates out of northwest Spain’s Galicia region, sank in the dark (around 0600 GMT, 1 a.m. EST), Spain's regional representative, Maica Larriba, told Spanish public radio.
The 24-member crew of the sunken vessel included 16 Spaniards, five Peruvians and three workers from Ghana, Spain's maritime rescue service said.
The head of Galicia’s regional government, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, said the Spanish ambassador to Canada told him that seven bodies had been found.
“The sea was very bad,” he told reporters.
The survivors included the vessel’s 53-year-old skipper and his 42-year-old nephew, according to La Voz de Galicia newspaper. The two men contacted their families by phone, the paper reported.
The signal from the vessel’s on-board data recorder, used to track vessels, stopped transmitting around 0600 GMT, a government official in Galicia, Maica Larriba, told Spanish public broadcaster RTVE.
A rescue center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, operated by Canada's air force and coast guard, dispatched helicopters, airplanes and a rescue vessel to the area, which is 450 kilometers (280 miles) off the island of Newfoundland.
Lt. Cmdr. Brian Owens, a spokesman for the rescue center, said high winds, heavy seas and fog were hampering the search, centered on the debris field from the sunken vessel.
Owens said three Cormorant helicopters were rotating in and out of the search area, while a provincial airlines aircraft and a C-130 Hercules were flying overhead doing sensor sweeps. The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Cygnus was still on route to the debris site, where ``a number″ of Spanish fishing ships were also assisting, he said.
A Spanish fishing boat working not far from the site of the sinking was the first to arrive and found three survivors and four bodies in one of the fishing boat's four lifeboats, officials said. Two of the emergency boats were empty and the fourth was reportedly unaccounted for.
Spain's maritime rescue center in the Spanish capital of Madrid received the first alert from the beacon on the Villa de Pitanxo and coordinated the early response with the Halifax rescue center, a spokeswoman with the service said.
The boat’s owner, Grupo Nores, didn't immediately reply to calls or written questions. According to its website, the group operates fishing fleets in waters off Argentina, Canada, Morocco, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal as well as in the North Sea.
The news was a tragic blow to the port town of Marin in northwestern Galicia, where many make their livings from the sea. Marin Mayor María 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.
Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, contributed to this report.