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Search called off for captain missing from boat that ran aground off Canso

Maj. Mark Norris of the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre, right, and Canadian Coast Guard officer Marc Ouellette head from a news conference after announcing they are scaling back their search for the captain of a fishing vessel that ran aground off Canso.
ANDREW VAUGHAN • CP
Maj. Mark Norris of the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre, right, and Canadian Coast Guard officer Marc Ouellette head from a news conference after announcing they are scaling back their search for the captain of a fishing vessel that ran aground off Canso. ANDREW VAUGHAN • CP - Canadian Press

Canso held a sad vigil Thursday for a captain who the town’s fishermen tried to save.

Binoculars tight to their eyes as they sat in their cars and homes along the harbour, this fishing community’s residents watched the sea beat the 13.5-metre Fisherman’s Provider II against Frying Pan Shoal.

“You sit and think he’s a fisherman just like you and no one’s been aboard to see if he’s alive,” said Juanita Delorey, who has fished lobster from Canso for 15 years.

On Tuesday night her VHF radio, a common feature of Canso kitchens, crackled to life.

“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, he kept saying,” remembered Delorey.

On its way out of Canso’s harbour to fish halibut, the Fisherman’s Provider II, which is not based in Canso, struck a shoal.

Delorey rushed down to the point to put eyes on the boat as word spread fast through the community.

Allan Newell had just gotten in the door of his Fox Island home when his phone rang.

he Canso/Hazel Hill Volunteer Fire Department, along with the Coast Guard auxiliary, was launching a rescue.

Newell remembered seeing the boat with its lights on, preparing to head out the harbour as he was coming in to land his catch.

Newell raced to the wharf and took four volunteer firefighters and portable pumps aboard his boat, Ole Sock.

Cory Mackenzie had already opened up his throttle headed for the stricken vessel.

“There were a few guys on the wharf when I got there, so we hopped aboard the boat and went,” said Mackenzie.

Just outside the harbour, near the lighthouse, the three crew members of the Fisherman’s Provider II were in a life-raft holding onto the side of the larger vessel. Mackenzie manoeuvred the 12-metre Miss Lexi as close as he dared to the waves breaking over the shoal. The crew, all wearing immersion suits, paddled out toward him and caught the line thrown from the Miss Lexi.

“They weren’t in a good spot,” said Mackenzie.

Miss Lexi’s crew pulled the life-raft alongside and got the three men aboard.

“The skipper wasn’t coming off, I guess,” said Mackenzie.

He handed off the life-raft to one of the other waiting fishing boats and headed back to the wharf with the Fisherman’s Provider II’s crew.

The Ole Sock passed the Miss Lexi going the other way and joined the small fleet of Canso fishing boats desperately trying to hail the captain.

Anthony Baker got in close to the listing fishing vessel and along with another man began calling out to the captain.

Though it was a calm night, due to the deep water adjacent to Frying Pan Shoal even a small swell turns into a breaking surf.

The would-be rescuers couldn’t see the fellow fisherman or get aboard to help him.

“It was a dangerous situation,” said Newell.

Despite their yelling, radioing and calling the captain on his cellphone, no contact was made.

And none has been made since.

The CCGS Cape Rogers arrived on scene shortly after and a Hercules spent the night overhead.

The next morning, the crew of a Cormorant helicopter attempted to board the vessel but were forced back by breaking waves.

The small fleet of fishing boats from Canso stayed out until midnight on Tuesday with their big spotlights trying to help any way they could.

As the sun set on Canso Thursday evening, the Coast Guard called off the search.

“There is little chance that there will be a positive outcome in this case,” said Marc Ouellette, search and rescue co-ordinator for the Canadian Coast Guard.

“The captain was adamant about remaining on board. He was very clear about having no interest of abandoning when they left and that was the last communication with him,” said Ouelette. “It’s not uncommon for a captain to want to remain on board to attempt to save the vessel.”

The Fisherman’s Provider II is owned by Fisherman’s Market. A spokesperson for the company declined to comment on Thursday.

With The Canadian Press

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