Spanish port devastated by Canada shipwreck tragedy

By: AFP
Published: 10:21 PM, 17 Feb, 2022
Spanish port devastated by Canada shipwreck tragedy
Caption: Spanish port devastated by Canada shipwreck tragedy.
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Flags at half-mast, black ribbons everywhere and families devastated by grief: the Spanish port town of Marin was left reeling after a deadly shipwreck left 21 sailors dead or missing at sea. 

The fishing trawler which sank off eastern Canada early on Tuesday was based in this small port in Spain's northwestern Galicia region and several members of its 24-strong crew lived here. 

"All our solidarity with the Villa de Pitanxo" reads a huge banner strung up along the main road, referring to the vessel which went down 250 nautical miles east of Newfoundland in Spain's worst fishing tragedy in nearly 40 years. 

Onboard were 16 Spaniards, five Peruvians and three Ghanaians. 

Only three survived, two Spaniards and a Ghanaian national. 

Rescuers have only managed to recover nine bodies, leaving 12 missing, presumed drowned, with the Canadian authorities ending their rescue operation on Wednesday evening after an "exhaustive" 36-hour search in which they combed 900 nautical square miles.

The news caused further anguish for the families, who begged them to continue. 

"We have to keep looking for the bodies, we can't leave 12 people stranded at sea!" said John Okutu, whose Ghanaian uncle Edemon Okutu is among the missing. 

"If Canada can't keep on looking, the Spanish must go, that's what the families want," he told journalists in Marin.  

Galician regional leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo also urged the authorities in Spain and Canada to resume the search, at least for another 24 hours.

"There are many missing bodies and they deserve a final effort," he told reporters.

During a visit to Marin, Spain's agriculture and fisheries minister, Luis Planas, said he was in "close contact" with Canadian authorities to see if it is possible to restart the search.

Children in shock

"My children are devastated," said Carolina, wife of Jonathan Calderon, a 39-year-old Peruvian fisherman who had been living and working on boats in Marin for more than a decade. 

Speaking to AFP, she said it was very important "that they find all the bodies, more than anything else, because that's very important for the families". 

Her husband, she said, "knew the sea well because he had worked in Uruguay, then in the Falkland Islands and had spent 12 years working on the Pitanxo".

Carolina, who is from Chiclayo, a city in northern Peru, said the last time she spoke to him was Monday and he didn't mention anything about bad weather. 

At her side, Carolina's mother is in tears as she talks about the impact on the couple's 16-year-old son and daughter, 10.

"My grandson is in shock, he thinks his Dad is coming home but my granddaughter seems to have accepted it because she says: 'Daddy's dead'," she sobs. 

Uncertainty part of our DNA

With very little news about the fate of their loved ones, several families were gathered at the headquarters of Manuel Nores, the firm that owned the Villa de Pitanxo. 

The firm was only letting in immediate family members who were being supported by therapists from the Red Cross, an AFP correspondent said. 

Opposite the port, where several buildings were draped with large black mourning banners, the flags on Marin's town hall had all been lowered to half-mast.

On Wednesday evening, the town of 24,000 residents, which sits on a river that flows into the Atlantic Ocean, observed a minute's silence for the victims.

"As people of the sea, we know what it is to live with uncertainty, it is part of our DNA, just like saltwater, fishing and the seafaring culture," a town hall statement said. 

"We can hardly imagine the sense of shock, the immense sorrow and the pain that the families of the Villa de Pitanxo are experiencing. We just aren't able," it added. 

The pain felt in Marin is etched in the face of Maria Dolores Polo, a 52-year-old legal adviser as she walks past the port in the pouring rain.

"I feel a huge sense of sorrow because these people went out to sea like that and haven't been able to come home," she told AFP. 

"Let's just see if they manage to recover the bodies," she said.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.