Posted on 10/26/2015

At least five people have died after a whale watching vessel carrying 27 passengers sank off the coast of British Columbia yesterday. The boat had been sailing in the waters off Tofino, on Vancouver Island, before making a mayday call. Why the boat sank remains a mystery. Locals said the water was calm at the time, with low wind and good light.

Coast Guard vessels and search and rescue aircraft had searched into the night for survivors. Dozens of boats from across the island also rushed to the scene to help, with multiple smaller vessels making repeated trips back and forth to shore. Lt Commander Desmond James, from the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre, said the military agency's search had concluded with five people dead, 21 rescued and one person missing. According health officials, 18 people were taken to hospital, though many were subsequently discharged.

Authorities said a search party was launched at around 4pm after receiving a distress call from the boat, though it is not yet known exactly why the vessel sank. Passengers on the Leviathan II would not have to wear life jackets. The boat, like ferries, would only be required to have life jackets on board. The vessel sank in an area known as Plover Reefs, around eight miles from Torfino. Locals told CKNW that the waters around Plover Reefs can be treacherous, with large tidal swells pulling boats on to the rocks. Leviathan II, is operated by Jamie's Whaling Station. Owner Jamie Bray wrote on the website, “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.”

MV Leviathan II is a 65-foot covered boat with inside heated seating that can carry up to 46 people, the Jamie's Whaling website says. It is equipped with a washroom, snack bar and liquor licence. At this time of year, tours leave from Tofino daily at 1.30pm. Two of the survivors have already been flown out of Tofino to another hospital, as the center there only has 10 acute care beds. The Leviathan II is believed to have sailed eight miles to Plover Reefs, west of Vargas Island, where it sank. The town's mayor, Josie Osborn, said, “Tofino's thoughts and prayers are with passengers, crew, emergency responders and their families. Thank you all for your messages of support.”

According to the company's website, they were just six days away from shutting down for the winter, and recommended bringing warm clothing and waterproofs on the tour. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said that it will be deploying a team of investigators to Tofino to investigate the sinking.