Search Ends off Canada with 12 Crew Missing From Spanish Fishing Boat

search for Spanish fishing boat off Canada
Search covered 900 nautical miles over 36 hours but 12 remain missing from the fishing boat (HfxJRCC photo)

Published Feb 17, 2022 8:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

Canadian and Spanish officials confirmed that the search for the crew of the fishing boat Villa de Pitanxo has officially ended leaving both countries in shock of the loss of so many lives. The Rescue Center in Halifax confirmed that only three people survived found in a single life raft, while nine bodies were recovered and 12 crewmembers remain listed as missing along with the vessel. 

Several fishing boats that had joined in during the search have begun the sad processional back to St. John’s, Newfoundland, transporting the survivors and the bodies of the dead. They are expected to arrive at the port on Friday morning. Officials in the meantime are reporting that it was the worst loss of life off Newfoundland in more than two decades, while in Spain they are comparing it to the loss of another fishing boat the Islamar III that sank off the Canary Islands in July 1984 claiming 26 lives.

"The decision is never taken lightly.” Lt.-Cmdr. Brian Owens of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax told CBC News. He said that they had covered over 900 nautical miles using aircraft as well as assistance from eight vessels including both Spanish and Portuguese fishing boats that had been in the area.  After 36 hours however and with the seas at over 30 feet, 45 knot winds, and below freezing temperatures, he said the conditions were no longer survivable for the missing crewmembers.



Early in the search, they had located a single life raft containing three survivors. They were searching the other rafts which had also been located but found no additional survivors. Spanish media is indicating that one survivor is the 53-year-old captain of the fishing boat. Officials are hoping to learn more details when they speak with the captain. The other two survivors include the captain’s nephew.

The 164-foot fishing boat was operating out of the Spanish province of Galicia. Reports indicate that there were 16 Spaniards, five Peruvians, and three Ghanaians in the crew. The Rescue Center in Halifax reported receiving a signal from the vessel’s distress beacon shortly after midnight local time on Tuesday, February 15. The vessel was operating approximately 250 nautical miles east of St. John’s in the Grand Banks. Reports indicate that the fishing boat had left its home port in Spain in late January and had been at sea since.

The small Spanish fishing village of Marin in Galicia, as is the country, is in shock over the tragic loss of life. Spain’s agriculture and fisheries minister Luis Planas spoke calling it the biggest tragedy in the fishing sector. He said “This is a job which not only is very hard but is also very dangerous,” as the families from the small town have pleaded for the search to continue and for Spain to assist in the search.

Spain’s Congress observed a minute of silence saying it was in support and joining the pain of relatives and friends of those who disappeared in the shipwreck of the Galician fishing boat.