12 Missing, 9 Recovered After Newfoundland Fishing Boat Disaster

At least nine people have died after a Spanish fishing boat sank about 280 miles off the coast of Newfoundland on Tuesday, leaving 12 people still missing, officials said.

The Villa de Pitanox sank in the early hours of Tuesday, leaving its 24 crew members in the icy seas of the Atlantic Ocean. So far, three people have been rescued and nine bodies have been found. Rescue teams are still searching for the 12 crew members.

The 164-foot vessel had four lifeboats onboard—two of them were empty and one was unaccounted for. The fourth was found by a nearby Spanish fishing boat that was first on the scene following the sinking. The lifeboat contained three survivors and the bodies of four people, officials said, according to the Associated Press.

The cause of the sinking is unknown and the boat has not been found. An extensive search effort is underway to find the remaining crew, but search and rescue crews have encountered rough waters, windy conditions and reduced visibility, the New York Times reported.

"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 Núñez Feijóo, according to AP.

The rescue center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, sent helicopters, airplanes and rescue vessels to search the area. A fleet of at least eight Canadian rescue vessels, and Spanish and Portuguese fishing boats, were searching for survivors in the rough seas, AP reported.

Spanish Fishing Boat Sank Off Canada Coast
At least 10 people have died after a Spanish fishing boat sank about 280 miles off the coast of Newfoundland on Tuesday. Above, this photo provided by Joint Rescue Coordination Centre on February 16, 2022, shows a view from a search aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean off Newfoundland. Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre/The Canadian Press/AP Photo

Lieutenant Commander Brian Owens, a spokesman for the rescue center, said harsh conditions such as fog, 46 mph winds and sea swells up to 18 feet were hampering the search efforts focusing around the debris field where the vessel sank, AP added.

Fred Anstey, the head of the School of Maritime Studies at the Marine Institute at Memorial University of Newfoundland, told the New York Times that the water temperature hovers around freezing and the survival time "is often measured in minutes."

The crew was made up of 16 Spanish sailors, five sailors from Peru and three from Ghana. The three survivors include the ship's captain, Juan Padin, his nephew, Eduardo Rial, and an unidentified sailor from Ghana, according to Spanish news agency EFE.

Spanish Agriculture and Fishing Minister Luis Planas said the Villa de Pitanox could withstand the rough weather in the area that is typical this time of year. He added that the sinking was "worst tragedy for our fishing fleet in 38 years," according to AP.

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax originally reported that the death toll had risen to 10, but Spain's maritime rescue service said there had been an error in the count and Canadian officials lowered it to nine confirmed deaths, AP reported.

"It appears that the error was due to the fact that the recovery of the bodies was carried out by different boats and that one body was counted twice," José Luis García, director of Spain's maritime rescue service, told Spanish broadcaster TVE, according to AP.

Update 2/16/22, 12:18 p.m. ET: This article was updated with additional information.