Survivors say Canadian tall ship sank in minutes

Students and crew rescued from the sinking of a Canadian owned tall ship in the South Atlantic were back on solid and Saturday after spending up to 40 hours in life rafts after their ship capsized.

The first of 64 people on board the three-masted SV Concordia were ferried into Rio de Janeiro aboard Brazilian Navy and merchant vessels, exhausted but relieved after their long ordeal.

Wearing navy caps and borrowed clothing, 12 of those rescued held an emotional news conference in Rio. The rest were to arrive later in the afternoon on two merchant vessels.

CTV producer Ana Pereira said survivors indicated that the ship went down very quickly, slipping beneath the waves. The ship’s captain said that his vessel sank Wednesday afternoon- a day earlier than previously reported - after being flipped on its side by a powerful gust of wind. He and his passengers and crew were rescued by merchant ships early Friday.

Capt. William Curry told reporters he was below deck when the ship suddenly keeled, banking over at a sharp, angle in the strong wind. Curry said that was normal, but when the vessel immediately went over a second time, he knew the vessel was in great danger.

The captain blamed the wreck on a “microburst”, a sudden, vertical downdraft that struck the entire surface area of the Concordia’s sails as it was angled over to one side. Within seconds, the boat went from sailing upright to lying on its side and beginning to sink.

Thirty minutes later it was completely underwater, Curry said.

“The boat started keeling a lot”, said 16-year-old passenger Lauren Unsworth, a Dutch-Canadian who lives in Amsterdam. “It came back up, keeled again, was basically lying on its side and all the windows began to break. That’s when we knew it was time to flee.”

Curry said that they abandoned ship and took to their life rafts in high winds and heavy seas, spending more than a day adrift in the Atlantic before spotting their rescuers.

“We had been in the life raft for about 30 hours when we saw a search plane for the first time”, Unsworth added. “That’s when we knew we were not alone and that help was on the way.” Toronto-native Keaton Farwell said her biggest fear was that no one was aware the group needed to be rescued.

“We thought our signal had failed and nobody knew and it could be weeks before we were saved”, she told a news conference. “The worst life-and-death thoughts were going through our heads, and everybody was panicking.”

The Navy said the distress signal was picked up about 5 p.m. Thursday. An Air Force plane later spotted life rafts in the ocean about 500 kilometers from Rio and a Navy ship and nearby merchant vessels moved in to aid in the rescue.

The first 12 crew and students came into port aboard a Brazilian Navy frigate. The rest were heading into Rio aboard slower merchant vessels and were expected to arrive later Saturday afternoon.

The Concordia was five days out from Montevideo, Uruguay, when it sank.

The Federal Transportations Safety Board says it will assist in an investigation to be led by the ship’s flag state country, Barbados.

The Concordia is owned by West Island College International with offices in Lunenburg, N.S. Forty-two of those onboard were identified as Canadians, mostly high school and university students, said Kate Knight, head of West Island College International of Lunenburg, which operates the Class Afloat program.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement thanking the Brazilian Navy and the merchant ships “for their swift and heroic response.”

(Adapted from:,, Feb. 2010)

The Concordia very likely started to sink due to: