07/10/2011 12:38 EDT | Updated 09/09/2011 05:12 EDT

Fishing Boat Sinks Off Nova Scotia Coast, Crew Members Rescued


THE CANADIAN PRESS -- CANSO, N.S. - Residents of the First Nation community of Eskasoni were expressing relief Sunday after six of the reserve's fishermen were rescued from a sinking vessel off Nova Scotia.

The fully loaded crab vessel Bessie AQQ Wilfred sank about 17 kilometres northeast of Canso, N.S., after sending a distress signal at 1:30 a.m.

A spokesman for the Halifax search-and-rescue co-ordination centre said the six men on board abandoned the vessel to board their life raft.

Three hours later they were hoisted aboard a rescue helicopter and flown to safety. All of the men are uninjured.

Leonard Denny, the chief executive of Crane Cove Fisheries Ltd., said he had a sleepless night as he monitored the rescue and stayed in touch with the crew by cellphone.

All of the crew were from the native community of about 4,000 located 40 kilometres southwest of Sydney.

"I'll tell you right now it's a time for rejoicing and a time for counting our blessings," Denny said in a telephone interview.

"I'm deeply moved by how they handled the situation. I'm very happy everyone is all right. It could have been very bad, it could have been very tragic."

Denny praised the crew for resisting panic and calmly donning survival suits and boarding the life raft in the middle of the night.

He also credited the safety training done by the First Nations fisheries company, which began operating after Supreme Court of Canada decisions allowed the creation of a native fishery in Atlantic Canada.

"They did everything right. You have a 45-foot vessel full of crab in rough seas in the Atlantic Ocean and as soon as they realized the vessel was taking on water they acted fast...and they did everything they'd been taught to do," he said.

Denny said that it is unknown why the vessel took on water in relatively calm waters, but he said an investigation will be carried out.

"We will look into what happened after we have a talk with the captain and crew," he said.

He said water was coming on board so rapidly that pumps could not keep pace.

Eskasoni Chief Leroy Dennis said the captain Shawn Stevens is a close personal friend, and he felt a sense of relief at the rescue.

"Personally it effected me, and I'm glad the boys took care of this so professionally," he said.