By Tina Comeau
FOR THE VANGUARD
The RCMP say they are still in the preliminary stages of their investigation pertaining to a stricken yacht 150 kilometres off Cape Sable Island that saw five people rescued, one person pronounced dead at hospital and three others presumed drowned.
The investigation involving the yacht and those onboard, said RCMP Sergeant Tom Murdock, is taking the RCMP in a few different directions.
“There are a couple of different things that are going on,” he told the Yarmouth Vanguard on Wednesday. “There is the investigation pursuant to why they are here, and there is a simultaneous investigation into what happened with the boat being overturned.”
Three people were plucked from the sea and hoisted into a rescue helicopter overnight into Tuesday, in what rescuers have described as horrendous conditions. They were flown by Cormorant helicopter to the Yarmouth Regional Hospital. One person was pronounced dead at the hospital. The other two have been treated for undisclosed injuries.
Three other survivors of the stricken SV Tabasco 2 were picked up at sea by the FSL Hamburg tanker, which arrived in Saint John, New Brunswick on Wednesday afternoon. The tanker had remained on the scene of the incident on March 27 to aid in the search for the missing sailors.
At the Yarmouth hospital on Tuesday, the two men from the yacht were kept under RCMP watch. Sgt. Murdock said that is standard procedure in a case like this.
“These people are foreign nationals entering into our waters and into our land. We have to find out why they’re here, what they’re doing, and how they entered,” he said. “It’s a typical investigation pursuant to the Customs Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.”
The RCMP wouldn't release where the men are from, but there's been indication – including from the rescuers – that they're from Eastern Europe, perhaps Russia or Georgia, or maybe the Ukraine.
A spokesperson for the Yarmouth Regional Hospital and South West Health said Wednesday evening that the two individuals brought to the Yarmouth hospital remained in hospital in fair condition.
Canada Border Services Agency officers have begun their examination of the individuals in Yarmouth and the same thing will happen in Saint John with the three sailors that were brought there on the tanker.
On Tuesday, the federal government’s Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews, said the matter involving the yacht and the sailors was being treated as a possible case of human smuggling.
“This tragedy highlights the need for speedy passage of the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act,” Toews said in a statement. “There is an enormous and unnecessary risk involved with the act of human smuggling. Our government’s message is clear to those contemplating a human smuggling operation – don’t do it.”
Sgt. Murdock said Wednesday that part of the RCMP’s investigation, along with investigation by other agencies, will be to determine if this was indeed a case of human smuggling.
“The RCMP is in the preliminary stages of this investigation so we’re pursuing a number of investigative leads, and we’re still gathering information. We haven’t eliminated any possible cause for the incident, but of course we’re looking into the sunken vessel and why it happened, as well our investigation will include an investigation into human smuggling,” the RCMP officer said.
Speaking with reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney called the travel plan of the stricken sailboat irregular. Kenney said the vessel was not registered and the government wasn’t aware that the yacht, with nine foreign nationals on board, was travelling to Canada. Although officials have yet to determine if this was a case of human smuggling, Kenney said the circumstances raise suspicion that human smuggling into the country may have been the intention.
He said the outcome of this voyage, with its loss of life, underscores the fact that if people want to come to Canada, they need to do so through conventional and legal means.
The RCMP, meanwhile, is also involved in this case in another capacity. With the active search for the three missing sailors suspended on Tuesday evening, the case has been turned over to the RCMP as a missing persons investigation.
A CH-149 Cormorant helicopter from Greenwood, which hours earlier had been involved in a rescue of five men in Pubnico after the boat they were on became disabled in Great Pubnico Lake, responded to the distress call involving the yacht. The crew described the conditions at sea as among the worst they’ve ever seen.
“You’re probably looking at waves as high as a four-storey building, in darkness, 40-knot winds and a vessel that was still afloat, but pretty much destroyed,” Sgt. Norm Penny, a search and rescue technician on the Cormorant crew, said following the rescue mission.
The yacht stayed afloat for a while after the rescue mission, but has since sunk.