Four who perished in shipwreck ‘warned not to set sail’

Crew ‘ignored warnings’; maintained radio silence and did not wear life jackets

As very possibly more than four families are mourning the loss of loved ones who died in the sailing boat shipwreck outside Torres Vedras on Friday it has emerged that the crew were warned in no uncertain terms not to set sail because of the dangerous weather conditions.

For reasons unclear, they not only chose to set sail, they did not have their VHF radio tuned to the VHF channel 16 – the international channel for distress/ safety alerts which all sea bound vessels are advised to monitor – nor did they have their satellite AIS signalling in operation (meaning authorities could not track their position).

The four (two men and two women) also appear to have chosen to sail in the complicated conditions of last Friday without wearing life-jackets, or harnesses.

These crucial lapses in good sailing practice may well have led to this tragedy. But, as Correio da Manhã reports, the crew were specifically warned about the weather conditions by sailing couple Paula Nunes and Nicolas Gibault, who had been sharing a berth next to the boat in Peniche marina since November 1.

“My husband had told them not to leave, because the waves are enormous”, Paula Nunes told the paper. “These are not the ideal conditions to sail (…) No one likes to hear of a death like this but they left (…) it is sad to say this, but as if they were looking for death…

Paula Nunes explained that in the conditions such as they were, no one seeks to sail close to the coast. “The way the sea is, you just don’t do this”.

As she stressed repeatedly, if the weather is bad you don’t go out. It is that simple. “Even the fishermen stay” in port.

For now, the identities and details of the four who died are unpublished (see below). There is even some confusion here: only three people were reported as on board, then a fourth body appeared (reportedly, discovered later, inside the wrecked boat).

A sailing blogger has posted: “Perhaps they were taking someone secretly, and that was the reason for such stupid decision”. 

Whatever the circumstances, authorities will be attempting to gather details to try and understand what impelled this ill-advised voyage that ended so rapidly, and with such dramatic loss of life.

The moment where a wave flipped the boat 30 kms south of where it had set out was caught on video, showing exactly how close to the shore the boat was sailing.

As Paula Nunes has told reporters, she and her husband had been unclear in their brief exchanges with the crew what kind of sailing experience they may have had.

Euroweekly has also carried a report on the wreck, concluding that “The Portuguese coastline has been under red, orange and yellow weather alerts due to the passage of the front associated with Storm Ciarán. It caused waves of between eight and 10 metres in height, with some reported to have been as big as 14 metres”.

The wave however that flipped the Danish-flagged vessel was more in the region of seven metres.

As reports have explained, the boat left Peniche at around 7.30 on Friday morning, with the shipwreck taking place very close to the shore of Formosa beach, in the Santa Cruz area of Lisbon, around 11am.

Correio da Manhã’s Portugal editor Sérgio A. Vitorino has written an opinion article in today’s paper in which he refers to the “few, brave and badly-paid lifeboat crews” who have to be scrambled in situations such as these, risking further lives for people who should have known better.

UPDATE: according to Barron’s online magazine, citing Agence France Presse, three of the victims, a 56-year-old man and the two women aged 46 and 61, were Danish nationals. The nationality of the fourth victim, a 57-year-old man, has not yet been confirmed.

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