At least five British citizens have been killed, after a whale-watching boat, carrying 27 passengers, sank in Canada.
Five Britons were killed when a Canadian whale-watching boat sank on Sunday and authorities were still searching on Monday for a sixth person feared drowned in the frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of British Columbia.
The boat, carrying 27 passengers, sank Sunday afternoon, sparking a rescue effort by the Canadian military, Coast Guard, fishermen and mariners from a nearby Aboriginal community. Five people were confirmed dead and one was missing, while 21 were rescued.
UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed all five casualties were British.
“My thoughts are with the family and friends of all those affected by this terrible accident,” Hammond said in a statement.
The Leviathan II, a three-deck cruiser that can carry up to 46 people, was operated by Jamie’s Whaling Station and Adventure Centres. Whale watching trips usually last two to three hours.
“It has been a tragic day. Our entire team is heartbroken over this incident and our hearts go out to the families, friends and loved ones of everyone involved,” owner Jamie Bray said in a statement on the company’s website. “We are cooperating with investigators to determine exactly what happened.”
In 1998, a boat operated by the same company sank near Tofino, killing the ship’s captain and a German tourist.
A military rescue helicopter and plane responded after the vessel sent a distress signal around 5pm PT (00:00 GMT), according to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre.
Military planes and coast guard vessels lit up the area where the vessel remained partially submerged, eight nautical miles northwest of Tofino.
Survivors and bodies were brought ashore in Tofino, a remote town of about 2,000 people popular with surfers, hikers and tourists from around the world looking to catch a glimpse of humpback and Pacific Gray whales.
“There was absolute pandemonium,” said witness Sheila Simpson, who watched paramedics work to save injured victims and later comforted survivors, “They were in absolute shock.”
Most of those rescued were taken to hospital, and several have since been released.
John Forde, who works at another eco-adventure company, said passengers on a vessel like the Leviathan II, a 65-foot cruiser, would not have had to wear life jackets. The boat, like ferries, would only be required to have life jackets on board.
He told the Global Television Network that the waves were three to four meters (10 to 13 feet) high at the time of the sinking, conditions that were rough but not unusual for the area, Forde said.