Officials suspend search for people missing from sunken fishing boat off Canada

The search for 12 crew members missing from a fishing boat that sank off the coast of Canada has been suspended, a Canada-based rescue center announced Wednesday. During the 36-hour search, which kicked off after the boat capsized early Tuesday morning, officials rescued three survivors and recovered nine bodies.

The rescue center, located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, said that as of 4 p.m. EST Wednesday law enforcement has taken over the case, which is now a missing persons at sea case. The announcement came after crews in the air and in the water searched 900 square nautical miles for the boat and the missing people.

“Our thoughts and sincere condolences go out to the families, friends, and community of these individuals,” the center tweeted.

The 50-meter long fishing boat named Villa de Pitanxo, which operates out of northwest Spain’s Galicia region, sank around 1 a.m. EST, Spain’s regional representative, Maica Larriba, told Spanish public radio.

The 24-member crew included 16 people from Spain, five Peruvians and three workers from Ghana, Spain’s maritime rescue service said.

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.

On Tuesday, Lieutenant Commander 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.

The center tweeted photos on Tuesday of its rescue operation.

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 6 a.m. GMT, a government official in Galicia, Maica Larriba, told Spanish public broadcaster RTVE.

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.

The survivors “were in a state of hypothermic shock because the temperature of the water is horrible, very low,” Maica Larriba, a representative of Spain’s central government in the Galicia region, told public radio.

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 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.

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