VANCOUVER—Five people died after a whale-watching boat with 27 people on board sank off Vancouver Island yesterday and one person remained missing, Canadian authorities said.
The vessel made a mayday call late yesterday afternoon on what was a calm, clear, and sunny day off the tourist community of Tofino—a popular destination for whale watchers on Canada’s west coast, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre said.
Lt.-Cmdr. Desmond James, a spokesman for the rescue agency staffed by Canadian military and Coast Guard personnel, said late yesterday that the agency’s search concluded with five people dead, 21 rescued, and one person missing.
The RCMP will take over the search for the person who remains missing.
“As of right now, the case has been turned over to the RCMP and it’s a missing person file,” James said.
“Fortunately, we did manage to rescue 21 people.”
The boat, the 20-metre Leviathan II, was partially submerged eight nautical miles west of Tofino.
Tofino’s mayor described the town’s mood as tense but commended residents for their quick aid in the rescue effort.
“Everybody’s heart is just breaking for what’s going on here and wanting to be as helpful as possible,” Josie Osborne said in a telephone interview late yesterday.
Coast Guard vessels and search-and-rescue aircraft had searched into the night for survivors.
Boats from the nearby Ahoushat First Nation arrived first on the scene, said Coun. Tom Campbell. He was on the waterfront and watched as rescuers brought several survivors ashore.
“Their looks tell the whole story,” he said by phone from Tofino.
“You can’t describe looks on people that are lost,” he noted. “They look totally lost—shocked and lost.”
John Forde, who runs The Whale Centre, another whale-watching operation, responded to the call for help and was told the search was for four or five missing people.
The ship that went down was operated by Jamie’s Whaling Station, Forde noted.
He said he had no idea how it could have sunk.
“Over the course of a season and years, we take out thousands and thousands of people on these trips in conditions similar today,” Forde said.
“I have no idea what the issue was or what actually happened.”
Forde said Jamie’s Whaling Station was one of the first of its kind off Vancouver Island and had been around for many years.
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board said it was investigating the boat’s sinking.
Joe Martin, a member of the Tal-o-qui-aht tribe, was near the dock when rescue boats went out.
The ship was on the far side of Vargas Island in Clayoquot Sound, an area that Martin said can get really rough, but was not yesterday.
“It wasn’t even blowing hard,” he noted.
“This is the largest boat in Tofino and I was really surprised that it went down.”