All crew in transatlantic race safe

HALIFAX — All crew aboard four storm-battered vessels that had been racing across the Atlantic Ocean are safe, according to the Halifax-based joint rescue co-ordination centre.

A spokeswoman for the centre said crew on two sailboats that put out distress calls were rescued Saturday morning, while a third boat made its way to calmer waters.

Maj. Rhonda Stevens said the cruise liner Queen Mary 2 picked up a British sailor from a disabled yacht and is en route to Halifax, and two Dutch sailors rescued from another vessel in the mid-Atlantic are on a tanker headed towards the Bahamas.

A fourth vessel in the race declared a state of emergency on Saturday when it started taking on water, she said, and the two Bulgarian sailors on board have been rescued and are on a research vessel headed to St. John’s, N.L.

Stevens said sailors braved up to 10-metre swells in damaged boats, one of which saw its mast collapse. Some of the boats were manned by one crew member fighting off fatigue.

“It obviously was a long, drawn-out (effort) with a couple of days of uncertainty,” said Stevens. “Those sailors were very experienced, so they hung on and did what they had to until we could get the rescue complete.”

Stevens said rescuers faced challenging conditions during Saturday’s mission, but with support in the skies from the Royal Canadian Air Force as well as British and Portugese aircraft, nearby vessels came to the sailors’ aid and brought everyone to safety.

“When people are in distress, everybody willingly comes to help,” said Stevens. “Rescuers showed their heroism and their passion for working on the sea and their skills, and they were able to save the lives of those people that were in distress.”

A spokesperson for Cunard, which owns the Queen Mary 2, confirmed that the cruise liner was involved in a rescue operation coordinated by the Canadian Coast Guard in Halifax, and that the lone sailor is now safely on board the ship.

“It is standard seafaring practice to go to the aid of a vessel in distress,” Capt. Chris Wells, the ship’s captain, said in a statement. ”We were pleased to be able to help and delighted that the yachtsman is safe and well and now on board Queen Mary 2.”

Rescue officials have said the vessels racing between Plymouth, England, and Newport, R.I., encountered very heavy weather late Thursday about 1,660 kilometres east of Newfoundland.

The coast guard had dispatched two of its vessels to the area and the Canadian warship HMCS Charlottetown was also directed to the scene.

The Canadian Press

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