26 Oct 2015

Whale watching boat disaster: five Britons dead

Five Britons have died after their whale-watching boat sank off the coast of western Canada, the Foreign Office has confirmed.

According to Canadian officials, 27 people were on the boat when it sank, 21 were rescued, five died and one person remains missing.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said his thoughts are with the family and friends of all those affected by the “terrible accident” which took place on Sunday afternoon off the coast of British Columbia.

The cause of the accident remains unknown and investigations are ongoing. Sea conditions at the time of the incident were reported to be calm.

The boat, Leviathan II, made a mayday call before sinking about 8 miles (12km) west of Tofino. Operated by Jamie’s Whaling Station, a local tour company, it got into difficulty on Sunday afternoon local time.

A major search and rescue operation was launched, with the boat partly submerged.

In a statement the Foreign Secretary 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.

“My thoughts are with the family and friends of all those affected by this terrible accident.

“Consular staff in British Columbia are supporting the family members of those who have died and we will remain in close contact with Canadian authorities as further information becomes available,” Mr Hammond said in a statement.

In a statement on the Jamie’s Whaling Station website, owner Jamie Bray wrote: “It has been a tragic day. Our entire team is heartbroken over this incident and our hearts go out to the families, friends and loved ones of everyone involved.

“We are doing everything we can to assist our passengers and staff through this difficult time.

“We are co-operating with investigators to determine exactly what happened.

“In the meantime, we want to extend our most sincere thank you to the first responders, rescue personnel, and everyone from Tofino and the local First Nations communities who assisted with the response efforts.

“We will provide further updates when information becomes available.”

Acting Sub-Lieutenant Melissa Kai, of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in British Columbia, said the rescue operation had finished at 11.10pm local time (8.10am GMT).

She said: “Of the 27 individuals on the vessel when it sank, 21 were rescued. Five were located without vital signs and one remains missing.”