More than 20 feared dead in North Atlantic trawler tragedy

Of the 24 crew on board the trawler Villa De Pitanxo (IMO 9098244), 21 were feared to have died after it sank in the North Atlantic during the morning of February 15th when it was about 255nm east of the easternmost coast of Newfoundland.

By the time nightfall came on February 15th, the bodies of 10 fishermen had been recovered, while three had been. The remaining 11 were missing, there being almost no hope that any of them would be found alive. There were 24 crew on board, comprising 16 Spaniards, 5 Peruvians and at least 3 Ghanaians.

The three survivors – all with severe hypothermia from exposure to cold water – were in a life raft. The ship’s master, identified by Spanish media as Juan Costa, was among those rescued.

A Cormorant rescue helicopter, a C130 Hercules aircraft, the cutter CCGS Cygnus and two good Samaritan vessels – the Playa Menduiña Dos and Novo Virgem da Barcawere – were assisting in a search.

Villa del Pitanxo was engaged in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization groundfish trawl fishery at the time of the casualty. It had departed its home port of Vigo in late January and had been at sea since. Surface conditions in the area at the time of the casualty were reportedly poor, with rough seas, high wind and low visibility.

The ship almost certainly capsized. No distress signal was sent, with the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax being alerted by the distress signal automatically sent by EPIRB. Shortly after midnight local time on February 15th the JRCC had received notice of an EPIRB signal from the vessel, at a position about 250 NM east of St. John’s.

Those who managed to leave the ship got onto life raft or rafts, which were likely to have been released automatically.

The incident has come as a reminder of the inherent dangers in trawling on the ocean during winter weather. A number of similar disasters have hit Russian trawlers in icy winter waters off the Russian Far East, or in Arctic seas. Rough seas, extremely cold weather in air and water, icing, and manoeuvring during trawl hauling.

The remains of seven deceased crewmembers have been located, according to Alberto Nunez Feijoo, a top government official in the trawler’s home province of Galicia, Spain.

Four life rafts from the vessel were spotted and three had been searched as of Tuesday afternoon local time. The rescuers said that they were holding out hope for finding additional survivors in the fourth raft once it is reached.

2004-built, Spain-flagged, 825 gt Villa De Pitanxo is owned and managed by Nores Marin Pesquerias of Marin (Pontevedra), Spain. It is entered with British Marine on behalf of Pesquerias Nores Marin SL.