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Spain in mourning after fishing boat sinks off Newfoundland coast; 21 dead or missing

Ship went down in rough, icy waters about 460 kilometres off the coast of St. John’s
This undated photo provided by the Spanish government ministry of Agriculture, Fishery and Food shows the Spanish ‘Villa de Pitanxo’ fishing boat. The Spanish fishing boat has sunk off Newfoundland, in eastern Canada on Tuesday Feb. 15, 2022, killing at least four people. Three crew members were rescued and search operations were ongoing to locate other members of the 24-strong crew of the sunken vessel. (Agriculture, Fishery and Food Ministry via AP)

A Spanish air force plane left St. John’s Monday to bring home the survivors and the dead from a fishing tragedy off the eastern coast of Newfoundland last week, which has shaken the European country.

The sinking of the Villa de Pitanxo fishing vessel on Feb. 15 killed nine men and left three survivors. Twelve crew members remain missing at sea. The Spanish government declared a countrywide day of mourning Monday to honour the loss of the ship and most of its crew.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez “reiterates his condolences to the families of the deceased and missing sailors and offers his support to the fishing sector, (which is) fundamental for our country,” said a tweet in Spanish on Monday from Sánchez’s official residence.

The ship went down in rough, icy waters about 460 kilometres off the coast of St. John’s. Spanish officials said last week the sunken vessel’s crew included 16 Spaniards, five Peruvians and three workers from Ghana.

Those rescued were found in one of the ship’s four lifeboats, while two other lifeboats were found empty and the fourth was unaccounted for. The operation to find the 12 missing fishers was called off Feb. 16, as search and rescue teams dealt with strong winds and 10-metre-high seas.

Last week, Jose Manuel Albares, Spain’s foreign minister, called for the search to resume as soon as weather allowed.

Sánchez tweeted Friday that he had spoken with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the efforts. “We will resume collaboration in the search tasks as soon as the weather allows,” Sánchez said.

The Newfoundland and Labrador RCMP said Friday they don’t have jurisdiction in the area where the vessel sank and the investigation should fall to the country with which the Villa de Pitanxo is registered.

On Monday, a Global Affairs Canada spokesperson directed inquiries about the search to the RCMP, who reiterated Friday’s position.

Neither the Spanish embassy in Ottawa nor the Spanish consulate in St. John’s returned a request for comment Monday.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press

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