HALIFAX — The search for 12 crew members lost after a Spanish fishing boat sank off the coast of Newfoundland Tuesday has been called off as hopes of finding any more survivors dwindle.
Lt.-Cmdr. Brian Owens, spokesperson of the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax, said Wednesday all search and rescue assets were returning to base, and civilian vessels have been released from their obligation to assist in the effort.
"It’s a hard call to make for a search reduction," Owens said in an interview. "Everybody still wants to go, but the realities have to lead us in a different direction." A total of 21 crew members are either confirmed dead or missing at sea.
The Villa de Pitanxo, which operated out of northwest Spain's Galicia region, sank in the dark early Tuesday, tossing its 24 crew members into icy seas. Three men were rescued and the bodies of nine others have been found in the debris site about 460 kilometres east of St. John's, N.L.
Owens said the teams searched about 900 square nautical miles around the site, but high winds and 10-metre seas hampered the search. The sinking is now under the jurisdiction of the RCMP as a missing persons at sea case, Owens added.
The rescue centre had originally reported late Tuesday that 10 bodies had been recovered, but it said Wednesday there had been an error in the count, and there are nine confirmed deaths.
The crew on the 50-metre vessel included 16 Spaniards, five Peruvians and three Ghanaians, according to Spain's maritime rescue service. Spanish news agency EFE reported that the survivors are the ship's captain, Juan Padin, his nephew Eduardo Rial and an unidentified sailor from Ghana.
Owens said the three survivors remain on a second Spanish vessel, which was nearby when the Villa de Pitanxo sank and rescued them from a life-raft on Tuesday. He did not have information on their medical condition.
"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.
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.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2022.
— With files from The Associated Press.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
The Canadian Press