Melia Pro

Published on Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tour firm in Canada boat tragedy had suffered previous fatal accident

A tour company whose whale watching boat sank in western Canada, killing six tourists including five Britons, had suffered a previous fatal accident, say reports.

One 27-year-old tourist and a crew member of Jamie's Whaling Station drowned in 1998 after a boat sank as it approached a reef.

Yesterday, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed that the five tourists who died  in the tour firm's latest disaster were British.

Their boat sank yesterday off Tofino, a remote fishing village 150 miles from Vancouver, during a whale watching excursion.

A sixth person, a 27-year-old man from Sydney, is still missing. He is believed to have been on holiday in Canada with his girlfirend and her family. His girlfriend's father is thought to be among those who died.

British Columbia's coroner's office said the five British victims - four men and one woman - were aged between 18 and 76. Two were UK nationals living in Canada and three were on holiday from the UK.

Hammond 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."

Some 21 others were rescued from the boat after it sank on Sunday afternoon. Dive teams are looking for the body of the missing person.

An investigation is being held and the operator, Jamie's Whaling Station, questioned. It is a 30-year-old business with good reviews on TripAdvisor, but it was criticised after the fatal accident in 1998.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said the operator 'did not fully appreciate the conditions the boat would meet at the time of the accident in the turbulent waters in the vicinity of reefs'.

The company was also criticised for a lack of emergency communication equipment, which resulted in a delay in the rescue. A search party wasn't sent until after the accident, when the boat failed to return, and two people were rescued.

Two years previously, another Jamie's Whaling Station employee suffered serious head injuries when the boat he was operating ran aground at full cruising speed when he fell asleep. 

The boat was unlicensed and the operator had been working for eight hours when the accident happened.

An investigation into that incident found that boats were operating for long hours by tired staff.

A spokeswoman for Jamie's Whaling said in a press conference yesterday: "We have learned that the crew was able to access flares onboard the boat and deployed them from the water."

She said the skipper of the ship had more than 20 years whale watching experience, 18 years with the company.

The crew are all licensed and did bi-weekly safety drills, she said.

"The safety and security of our passengers are our main concern and we are absolutely devastated.

"This is a tragic accident and our thoughts and prayers go out to our passengers, crew and everyone impacted."

Company owner Jamie Bray said the staff were all 'traumatised', adding that the 65ft boat, Leviathan II, had operated for 20 years without incident.

"This is something just totally out of the blue," he added.

There is speculation the boat had diverted to rocky waters to allow passengers a glimpse of sea lions, although one eye witness claimed a freak wave had flipped the boat over.

Seven boats from a remote rural fishing community rushed to rescue the passengers who had been flung into the water. Of the 21 rescued, 18 were taken to hospital suffering from hypothermia but were later released.

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