Flags at half mast, black ribbons everywhere and families devastated by grief: the Spanish port town of Marin has been rocked after a deadly shipwreck left 21 dead or missing at sea.
The fishing trawler that sank off eastern Canada early on Tuesday was based in this small port in Spain’s northwest region of Galicia and several members of its 24-man crew lived here.
“All our solidarity with the Villa de Pitanxo,” reads a huge banner hung along the main road, referring to the ship that sank 250 nautical miles east of Newfoundland in the worst tragedy of Spanish fishing in nearly 40 years.
On board were 16 Spaniards, five Peruvians and three Ghanaians.
Only three survived, two Spaniards and a Ghanaian national.
Rescuers managed to recover only nine bodies, leaving 12 missing, presumed drowned, as Canadian authorities ended their rescue operation on Wednesday evening after a 36-hour ‘exhaustive’ search during which they combed through end 900 square nautical miles.
The news caused further anguish for the families, who begged them to continue.
“We must continue to search for the bodies, we cannot leave 12 people stranded at sea!” said John Okutu, whose Ghanaian uncle Edemon Okutu is among the missing.
“If Canada can’t keep looking, the Spaniards have to leave, that’s what the families want,” he told reporters in Marin.
Galician regional chief Alberto Nunez Feijoo also urged Spanish and Canadian authorities to resume the search, at least for another 24 hours.
“There are a lot of bodies missing and they deserve a last ditch effort,” he told reporters.
During a visit to Marin, Spain’s Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Luis Planas said he was in “close contact” with Canadian authorities to see if it was possible to relaunch the search.
– ‘Children in shock’ –
“My children are devastated,” said Carolina, wife of Jonathan Calderon, a 39-year-old Peruvian fisherman who has lived and worked on boats in Marin for more than a decade.
Speaking to AFP, she said it was very important “that they find all the bodies, more than anything else, because it’s very important for the families”.
Her husband, she says, “knew the sea well as he had worked in Uruguay and then the Falkland Islands and had spent 12 years working on the Pitanxo”.
Carolina, who is from Chiclayo, a city in northern Peru, said the last time she spoke to him was on Monday and he didn’t mention anything about the bad weather.
Beside him, Carolina’s mother is in tears as she talks about the impact on the couple’s 16-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.
“My grandson is in shock, he thinks his dad is coming home but my granddaughter seems to have accepted it because she says: ‘Dad is dead'”, she sobbed.
– ‘Uncertainty is part of our DNA’ –
With very little news about the fate of their loved ones, several families were gathered at the headquarters of Manuel Nores, the firm that owns Villa de Pitanxo.
The company only let in close family members who were cared for by Red Cross therapists, an AFP correspondent said.
Facing the harbour, where several buildings were draped in large black banners of mourning, the flags of the town hall of Marin had all been lowered to half-mast.
On Wednesday evening, the town of 24,000, located on a river that flows into the Atlantic Ocean, observed a minute’s silence for the victims.
“As people of the sea we know what it is to live with uncertainty, it is part of our DNA, just like salt water, fishing and maritime culture,” a statement said. of town hall.
“We can hardly imagine the feeling of shock, the immense grief and the pain that the families of Villa de Pitanxo are going through. We are simply not capable,” he added.
The pain felt by Marin is etched on the face of Maria Dolores Polo, a 52-year-old legal adviser, as she walks past the harbor in the pouring rain.
“I feel immense sorrow because these people went to sea like this and couldn’t return home,” she told AFP.
“Let’s just see if they manage to recover the bodies,” she said.