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Death toll rises to nine in fishing disaster off Newfoundland

A search operation is still looking for missing crew members ((Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre/The Canadian Press via AP)

Canadian rescuers have located more bodies from a Spanish fishing ship that sank in rough seas off Newfoundland, raising the death toll to nine.

A search operation is still looking for the 12 crew members still missing after the ship went down in the eastern Atlantic Ocean.

Three members, including the captain, were rescued alive.

The 50m (164ft) fishing boat named Villa de Pitanxo, which operated out of northwest Spain’s Galicia region, sank in the dark early on Tuesday, tossing its 24 crew members into icy seas 460km (250 nautical miles) east of Newfoundland.

The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax originally reported late on 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,” Jose Luis Garcia, director of Spain’s maritime rescue service, told Spanish broadcaster TVE.

The Spanish fishing boat has sunk off Newfoundland, in eastern Canada (Agriculture, Fishery and Food Ministry via AP)

The rescue centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, operated by Canada’s air force and coast guard, dispatched helicopters, airplanes and a rescue vessel to the area.

Eight boats are 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.

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.”

Lt Cmdr Brian Owens, spokesman for the Halifax rescue centre, said the region was experiencing 74 kph (46 mph) winds and sea swells up to 5.5m (18ft).

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 Padin, 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 Padin, 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 Nunez Feijoo.

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