Five killed as whale-watching boat sank in Canada were British

Rescue personnel mounting a search for victims of a capsized whale watching boat on a wharf in Tofino, British Columbia.
Rescue personnel mounting a search for victims of a capsized whale watching boat on a wharf in Tofino, British Columbia. PHOTO: REUTERS
Rescue personnel mounting a search for victims of a capsized whale watching boat on a wharf in Tofino, British Columbia.
Rescue personnel mounting a search for victims of a capsized whale watching boat on a wharf in Tofino, British Columbia. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - The five people killed when a whale-watching vessel sank off Canada’s Pacific coast were all British, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Monday (Oct 26).

A total of 21 people were rescued in the incident near Vancouver Island on Sunday, coastguards said.

“It is with deep sadness that I can confirm five British nationals have lost their lives when the whale-watching boat they were on sank off western Canada on Sunday,” Hammond said in a statement released by the Foreign Office.

“My thoughts are with the family and friends of all those affected by this terrible accident.” The boat, Leviathan II, was around 12km off Tofino, a resort town on the western edge of Vancouver Island, when a distress call was received at around 5pm saying that the ship was sinking.

The 20m  cruise vessel was owned by Jamie’s Whaling Station and Adventure Centres of Tofino. It was reportedly out on one of its last tours of the season, which ends Oct 31.

For unknown reasons, the ship capsized in waters less than 10m deep, but its bow remained visible above water. 

Several lifejackets and personal effects such as handbags and clothing could be seen floating nearby.

A number of boats converged at the site to help the Coast Guard with its search effort, including vessels from the Ahousat aboriginal community, with one taking eight people aboard, according to an account in the Vancouver Sun newspaper.

- Response ‘phenomenal’ - 

“The response here has been nothing short of phenomenal, the way that people are bringing out blankets and clothing and food, donating what they can and offering all of the services that they have,” Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne told broadcaster CTV.

“Tofino’s thoughts and prayers are with passengers, crew, emergency responders and their families. Thank you all for your messages of support,” she wrote on Twitter.

An employee who answered the phone at Jamie’s Whaling Station said the company was focused on the passengers and crew.

Canada’s federal Transportation Safety Board (TSB) announced Sunday it was sending investigators.

Tofino is a popular surfing and whale watching town near the Clayoquot Sound Unesco Biosphere Reserve.

Jamie’s Whaling Station, one of the area’s largest tourist boat outfitters, was hit by another deadly tragedy in 1998.

According to TSB records, two of the four people aboard a whale-watching ship, Ocean Thunder, died after a “large swell wave struck the boat from the port side.”