BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Canadian rescuers recovered more bodies from a Spanish fishing ship that sank in rough seas off Newfoundland, raising the confirmed death toll to nine, but the search for 12 missing sailors was called off Wednesday afternoon.
Lt. Cmdr. Brian Owens, spokesperson of the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax, Canada, said all search and rescue aircraft and vessels were returning to base and civilian vessels had been released from their obligation to contribute to the effort.
The fishing boat Villa de Pitanxo, which operated out of northwest Spain’s Galicia region, sank early Tuesday 460 kilometers (250 nautical miles) east of Newfoundland, tossing its 24 crew members into icy seas.
Three crew members were rescued and the bodies of nine others were found in the debris site. Owens said teams searched about 900 nautical square miles around the site, but high winds and 10-metre seas impeded the effort amid dwindling hopes of finding any more survivors.
The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax originally reported late Tuesday that the death toll had risen to 10. On Wednesday, 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,” José Luis García, director of Spain’s maritime rescue service, told Spanish broadcaster TVE.
The rescue center in Halifax, operated by Canada’s air force and coast guard, dispatched helicopters, airplanes and a rescue vessel to the area. Eight boats had been searching for survivors, a fleet made up of Canadian rescue vessels and Spanish and Portuguese fishing boats, Spanish Agriculture and Fishing Minister Luis Planas said Wednesday.
Both 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. The survivors are the ship’s captain, Juan Padín, his nephew Eduardo Rial, and an unidentified sailor from Ghana, reported Spanish news agency EFE.
“I am relieved because I know that both are alive, but I am also very sad for their comrades,” Gloria Padín, the mother of Eduardo and the sister of Juan, told Spanish state broadcaster TVE.
Family members fearing the worst gathered at the Spanish coastal town of Marín waiting for the remains to be identified.
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.
“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.