One close encounter that at least left the boat intact: photo taken by Rita Mexia

Five flee sinking sailboat after orca ‘intervention’ off Sines

Group rescued by fishing boat; “everyone is safe”

The early hours of this morning saw a new – and very much worse than usual – orca intervention off the coast of Sines.

A sailing boat was so badly damaged that it started to sink.

Reports explain that the five people on board managed to flee in a dinghy, having radioed ahead for help. 

Fishing boat Festas André was close by and went straight to the rescue.

It is still unclear whether the orcas were in the vicinity as the boat’s crew disembarked. But the incident puts a whole new dimension on ‘interactions’ by orcas with sailing boats – which have been happening with a degree of frequency since 2020.

Today’s reports make little reference to the fact that orca interactions have immobilised dozens of sailing boats in the last couple of years – so much so that social media sites have been created for sailors to pass each other information, as well as websites by specialists who are studying this new phenomenon.

Details of today’s interaction have still to come. We are not told, for instance, what flag the sunken sailboat was flying under; how the interaction began; or why it ended with such drastic consequences.

In the past, sailing boats have been immobilised, but not damaged to the point of actually sinking.

Today’s incident involved Sines ports authorities and the Portuguese Navy.

Said the Navy in a statement, its “Maritime Search and Rescue Coordination Centre in Lisbon, with the Captain of the Port of Sines, coordinated the rescue of five crew this morning who were on a life raft after the sailing boat they were in had sunk following a meeting with orcas about six nautical miles, equivalent to 11 kms, from Sines”.

The crew’s emergency call went out shortly after midnight. 

Reports carry the habitual ICNF advice: any boat visited by orcas should turn off its engines, as the movement of propellers etc is believed to encourage what the entity likes to refer to as “curious behaviour of young orcas”.

But ‘Orca attack – Iberia’, a social media group involving many who have come off at the sharp end of these ‘meetings’, does not mince its words today. 

“When are the experts going to offer some advice, beyond telling us to do nothing” query sailors. 

Reactions are split between those who really believe the orcas are just ‘curious’ and having a bit of fun, to those who feel this is a rogue pod targeting vulnerable sailing boats in the middle of the ocean, with serious and always expensive consequences.

For now, the ‘good news’ is that all crew members are safe, if not rattled by their encounter.

The full details of what actually happened may come clear tomorrow.

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