Yacht tragedy - were they cruising sailors or asylum seekers?

Tabasco 2 - helicopter pilot Lt. Col Guy LeBlanc wonders who it was his guys rescued - photo by Tina Comeau/Yarmouth Vanguard
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Were they cruising sailors or asylum seekers? One sailor is dead and three are missing and presumed dead after a yacht with nine persons on board issued a distress call off the coast of Nova Scotia in what is being investigated as a case of human smuggling.

Apparently the source of the suspicion is that the yacht, SV Tabasco 2, was not registered to any country and that some of those rescued have asked for asylum.

The Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said that the boat might have been trying to smuggle people into Canada based on its actions. 'We don't have final information but it certainly was some form of irregular travel,' he said outside the House of Commons.

However, Canadian opposition party members have asked the Government 'not to jump to conclusions.'

Tabasco 2 - where the yacht was located
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All of the survivors were European, from Georgia, Russia and the Ukraine. A rescue helicopter hoisted three men from the Atlantic Ocean, and two of them are now in a hospital, while the third man died.

Three other men were taken aboard a tanker, which was headed to Canada. A search for three other people who were on board the SV Tabasco 2 was called off by early evening Tuesday and turned over to police as a missing persons case.

The boat issued a distress call after running into trouble at about 10:30 p.m. Monday. The rescue of those from the small sailing boat took place in 10-metre swells and winds gusting up to 50 knots in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The search-and-rescue centre in Halifax says they were not believed to be wearing survival suits when they went overboard into the frigid waters.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said 'some' of those rescued from the yacht have claimed refugee status and the incident is being treated as a suspected case of human smuggling.

Capt. Bertrand Thibodeau, the pilot of a plane involved in the search early Tuesday, said the conditions were some of the harshest he'd seen.