The search for the crew of the fishing vessel Villa de Pitanxo shipwrecked about 450 kilometres to the ESE of Nova Scotia yesterday continues The FV Villa de Pitanxo which has sunk 450km off Nova Scotia today. inspection

The Spanish Government has announced that the inspection operation on the wreck of the ‘Villa de Pitanxo’ has been completed by CIAIM

Spanish officials have announced that a location and inspection operation of the wreck of the ‘Villa de Pitanxo’ has been completed by the Comisión Permanente de Investigación de Accidentes e Incidentes Marítimos (CIAIM).

The operation was carried out from the ‘Artabro’ by CIAIM members and by representatives from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) who were acting as observers. A judicial expert, appointed by the Central Investigating Court No. 2 of the National Court, has also embarked to participate in the operations within the framework of the judicial proceedings being conducted by that court for this accident.

The ‘Artabro’ had left Vigo, Spain on Wednesday 17 May and travelled to the last known whereabouts of the sunken fishing vessel.

The 50-metre ‘Villa de Pitanxo’ sank 450km east of Nova Scotia on the morning of February 14 2022, with the loss of 21 of the 24 crew onboard. It was understood from an inquiry that the fishing vessel was fishing at the time of the accident, when its trawl nets became fast on the bottom. Samuel Kwesi Koufie, one of the three survivors of the sinking said that was the moment when the crew told the skipper to release the net to regain stability, but he did not listen. As a result, water began to fill the compartments, the engine stopped, and the fishing boat ended up sinking.

According to Samuel’s version, the skipper would not give the order to abandon ship or put on the life jackets. He and his nephew were the only two crew members who had their lifejackets on, as the others did not have time.

This story was contradicted by the boats captain, Juan Padin, and his nephew, Eduardo Rial. They claimed the skipper was on the bridge when the event unfolded, explaining that during the manoeuvre to collect the nets, the ship’s engine stopped, and water began to enter the ship.

It is because of this difference in the statements that the National Court has opened an investigation “on the possible criminal responsibilities in the sinking”.

‘Villa de Pitanxo’

Last known position of the ‘Villa de Pitanxo’

The shipwreck led to the death of 21 of the 24 sailors, nine of whom were recovered from the sea dead, and the rest are still missing. If found guilty, the skipper faces a “crime of reckless murder for each of the 21 deceased sailors, or against the rights of workers”.

In September 2022, CIAIM announced:

During the months following the accident, the CIAIM has worked on the collection of documentary evidence and taking statements. It is still not possible to establish well-founded hypotheses about the causes of this accident, which will be determined upon completion of the investigation and will be presented in the corresponding report, which will be made public once approved.

After initial analysis of the gathered evidence, the CIAIM has considered it necessary to carry out the following actions to contrast different hypotheses regarding the causes of the accident:

  • Development of a maritime climate study to obtain detailed information about the maritime and weather conditions at the time of the accident and in the preceding days. This study has been entrusted to the Center for Port and Coastal Studies (CEPYC) of the Center for Studies and Experimentation of Public Works (CEDEX).
  • Conducting tests with a scaled model of the vessel “VILLA DE PITANXO” in a marine dynamics laboratory to accurately reproduce the behaviour of the vessel during the accident and in the minutes leading up to it. These tests will be carried out at the Hydrodynamic Testing Center in El Pardo (CEHIPAR), belonging to the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA).
  • The inspection of the wreck could help corroborate some of the information received and obtain other data or details of interest for the investigation. Therefore, consultations have been initiated to determine the necessary technical means and the economic cost of such an operation.

In November 2022, CIAIM announced that has initiated the necessary procedures to carry out an operation for the search, location, and underwater inspection of the wreck of the fishing vessel ‘VILLA DE PITANXO’ in the waters of the North Atlantic and at the end of January 2023, the announcement for the tender of the search, location, and inspection services of the wreck was published on the State Procurement Platform, with a value of €3,000,000.

On Wednesday 17 May 2023, the ‘‘Artabro’’ left Vigo to carry out the research operation. Reporting on the operation, the Spanish Department for Transport released a statement on  Monday 05 June:

“Completion of wreck location and inspection operations of the ‘VILLA DE PITANXO’ The inspection work on the wreck of the vessel VILLA DE PITANXO, carried out within the framework of the accident investigation conducted by the Permanent Commission for Investigation of Maritime Accidents and Incidents (CIAIM), concluded yesterday, Sunday, June 4, once all the inspection objectives were achieved. The CIAIM benefited from the effective participation of the crew of the vessel ‘ARTABRO’, who possess extensive experience and technical preparation in these tasks.

The wreckage of the ‘VILLA DE PITANXO’ was found in the area where all indications suggested it would be, very close to the location where the vessel’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) last emitted signals.

At present, the vessel ‘ARTABRO’ is sailing towards Punta Delgada (Azores, Portugal) to disembark one of the experts. Subsequently, it will set course for the port of Vigo, where it is expected to arrive early next week.

The footage obtained from the wreck will be included in the CIAIM’s investigation file and will be examined to take them into account in the conclusions of the report on this accident, which will be finalized and published by the CIAIM as soon as possible.”

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