Canadian school ship sinks off Brazil coast; all 64 aboard rescued

By Bradley Brooks, AP
Friday, February 19, 2010

Brazil: all 64 rescued after Canadian ship sinks

RIO DE JANEIRO — A Canadian sailing ship filled with high school and college students sank off the coast of Brazil in strong winds, but all 64 aboard were rescued on Friday, apparently uninjured, Brazil’s Navy said.

A distress signal was picked up from the three-masted SV Concordia about 5 p.m. (2 p.m. EST; 1900 GMT) Thursday, the Navy said in a statement. Three hours later, an Air Force plane spotted life rafts floating in the ocean about 300 miles (500 kilometers) off the coast of Rio de Janeiro.

Forty-eight students — in grades 11, 12 and university freshmen — were aboard the vessel, said Kate Knight, head of West Island College International of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, which operates the Class Afloat program.

Navy spokeswoman Maria Padilha said the students spent up to 16 hours on life boats before they were rescued by three passing cargo ships between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. (2 a.m. and 7 a.m. EST; 0600 and 1100 GMT). She said the students would be moved to a Navy ship and taken to Rio, but didn’t give an estimate on when they would arrive.

Shelley Piller, whose 17-year-old stepdaughter Alicia was on board, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Kenilworth, Ontario, that she was worried despite hearing news that everyone was safe.

“That’s my kid. For me I need to actually physically see her, feel her and have her in front of me to understand that she’s safe,” Piller said. “We’re petrified, absolutely petrified.”

Canada’s Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said nobody on board was injured and he thanked Brazilian authorities, who “acted swiftly to assist the ship and its passengers.”

The school said on its Web site that the status of the Concordia was unknown, though the Brazilian Navy said it sank.

Terry Davies, founder the school, told The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that 42 Canadians were on board the ship, but didn’t say where the others were from.

The ship had visited Europe and Africa since leaving Canada in September, and it had just begun a five-month semester program on leaving Recife in Brazil’s northeast on Feb. 8. It was scheduled to dock in Montevideo, Uruguay on Tuesday, then head on to several islands in the Atlantic and to southern Africa and the Caribbean before returning to Canada.

The school’s Web site says the 188-foot-long (57.5-meter-long) Concordia was built in 1992 and “meets all of the international requirements for safety.” It carries up to 66 passengers and crew and also can operate under motor power.

The college’s Web site says it gives high school and college students the chance to study while sailing the world. Tuition is listed as being 42,500 Canadian dollars ($40,600) a year for students in the 11th and 12th grades and in university.

Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

will not be displayed