Students adrift off Brazil for 40 hours sang songs to pass time before rescue

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TORONTO - Canadian students adrift for a harrowing 40 hours in lifeboats after their tall ship sank off the coast of Brazil sang songs and bailed water as they awaited rescue, their teachers said Monday as the group arrived in Toronto.
"We knew there was going to be an end to it, we just didn't know when," biology teacher Ruth McArthur, 23, of Brampton, Ont., said as she described how the students worked together to keep safe.
"One group sang a whole bunch of Disney songs. 'Hakuna Matata' came out one night, but I think I was throwing up then so I didn't participate unfortunately."
Relieved parents and relatives received the students in a private area when they flew in to Pearson International Airport from Sao Paulo at dawn Monday. However, several loud cheers could be heard through the glass doors.
The students declined to speak with the media, save for one who gave a brief description of what it was like on the rafts.
"It's kind of a blur, but I got through it so that's all that matters," said Olivia Aftergood.
The 42 Canadian high school and university students were among the 64 people aboard the Concordia, which sank in rough seas, some 500 kilometres off the Brazilian coast Wednesday.
The shipwreck left them adrift on the ocean for two nights, at times in the rain.
"It seemed as if it was taking forever (to get everyone in the lifeboats), but it could have been 15 minutes," said English teacher Mark Sinker, who added they were constantly bailing water out of the rafts.
The sense of time dragging was also experienced at home by his father, Wayne, who spent seven hours not knowing whether his son was alive or dead.
"But the final outcome is great," he said. "It was certainly an experience to see him come out of that gate."
Shelley Piller, whose 17-year-old daughter Elysha was a student on the boat, brought a big fuzzy pink blanket.
"Because I love her, and I'm a mom, and I want to put it around her," she said.
The students were taking part in the Class Afloat program, run by the West Island College International of Lunenburg, N.S.
The ship's captain, William Curry, has said although the Concordia's crew had prepared the day before for what they anticipated would be rough weather, the ship suddenly keeled.
When it keeled again the ship's sails were exposed to the powerful wind and within 15 seconds the boat was lying on its side and began to sink. The captain said it slipped beneath the waves 30 minutes later.
The CEO of the program said efforts are underway to continue classes on shore at the school's administrative office - a historic building known as Lunenburg Academy which can accommodate about 50 students.
"Class Afloat heard from many parents that they're supportive of us making plans to continue the school year," said Nigel McCarthy, who added he was "humbled" to hear that considering the circumstances.
"We need to make sure that the education of these children continues."
McCarthy said he's not worried about lawsuits stemming from the sinking of the Concordia but would not say if the company has consulted a lawyer.
He said it was 16 hours after the ship sank before the company even became aware there was a problem, and at that point only knew an emergency beacon had been set off.
The Brazilian navy, which took 19 hours to respond to the emergency, has defended its action, calling it standard procedure.
An investigation into the sinking will be conducted by the Barbados Maritime Authority as the ship was registered in that country, McCarthy said.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is assisting with the investigation.
"It's a ship that was carrying Canadians, it operates out of a Canadian port and we're assessing this occurrence under our act as well," TSB spokesman John Cottreau said.
"From what I understand we are providing assistance to Barbados.
"If we have any information that we can get for them, or facilitate getting for them, then we will do that."
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Peter Kent was on hand as the parents welcomed their children.
"There is an awful lot of joy in that room as the families get together," said Kent.
"There is a great sense of appreciation and satisfaction that everything came together very well."
Students from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Europe and the West Indies were also aboard the ship.
The vessel was on a five-month voyage that allows students in Grades 11 and 12 and the first year of college to study while sailing around the world.

Organizations: West Island College International of Lunenburg, Hakuna Matata, Pearson International Airport Transportation Safety Board of Canada Lunenburg Academy Barbados Maritime Authority

Geographic location: Brazil, TORONTO, Brampton Sao Paulo Barbados United States Australia New Zealand Mexico Europe West Indies

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