Divers were used in the rescue
Divers were used in the rescue

The sinking of the catamaran tour boat this morning in Costa Rica’s Pacific waters near Jacó claimed the lives of three people. The other 106 passengers and crew survived thanks to the rescue efforts by local boats near the shipwreck and relief agencies.

The accident occurred shortly before 10:00am, near Punta Leona beach, north of Herradura. The tour boat had left Herradura around 8:00am.

According to the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ), the three deceased were identified as Sharon Johsnton (70 years) from Canada, Edna Oliver (68 years) from the United States and 80 year old Ivor Stanley Hopkins, from England.

Originally four people were reported having died. In Jacó, rumours spread that a fifth had perished on the way to hospital. However, by late in the afternoon, at a press a 4:00pm press conference by Vice-President, Ana Elena Chacón, confirmed that three people had deceased and 106 had been rescued.

“It’s a sad day for our country, that receives so many tourists,” said Chacón.

President Luis Guillermo Solís, from China (who is on an official tour of the Asian country until Friday) sent a message from his Twitter account.

Only 11 of the 109 people aboard (99 tourists and 10 crew) were Costa Ricans.

One of the first survivors, Arcelio Garcia, said the catamaran rolled over very quickly. “It was horrible. When I sa the caption come out and the choppy sea I said, something is happening.”

solis-twitter“The captain started to turn the wheel to the left. There were pretty heavy seas and we started to take water on, apparently on the right side,” said Todd Olson, a tourist from Kansas told Reuters.

Stella Hopkins, an Argentine and the wife of the British victim, said she had thought that the boat would turn around because the sea was choppy, but the crew decided to continue the cruise.

Speculation is the strong winds and prevailing waves could have been the cause of the accident. Hector Chaves, head of the Bomberos said they ruled out a possible fire on board.

Costa Rica has been experiencing exceptionally strong winds this week. On the Caribbean coast, waves up to almost 5 metres (15 feet) have been battering the port city of Limón. In the Central Valley (San José), winds have uprooted trees and downed power lines in many communities.

The rescue efforts were coordinated by the Cruz Roja (Red Cross), the Guardacostas (Coast Guard) and Bomobers (Fire Department) that gathered their efforts at the Herradura (Los Sueños) marina.

A catamaran is a twin hulled design normally thought to be more stable in rough seas. The ocean generated a heavy chop due to high winds that have assaulted the country this week. The vessel carried life preservers for 174, reported La Nacion.

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Chaves said  the catamaran sank quickly, within minutes in the 170 metres (550 feet) deep waters, and required the help of divers.

The capsized boat is owned by the company Pura Vida Princess, that provides tours to Tortuga Island.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes (MOPT) – Ministry of Public Works and Transportation – was quick to confirm that the boat, a 2007 Ecoquest with the identification P11400 had its certificate of seaworthiness, meaning it had met all the safety requirements to operate.

The Instituto Nacional de Seguros (INS) – state insurer – confirmed that company has injury and death insurance coverage.

At the ready was the nearest hospital in Puntarenas after the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social (CCSS) declared a red alert for all medical facilities in the area of the accident, to accept possible patients.

In the end, all the passengers were rescued, only two required medical attention at the Puntarenas hospital.

This is not the first accident at sea. Since 1997 at least six shipwrecks have been reported on Costa Rica’s coasts.

The accident is sure to have a repercussion on the country’s tourist image internationally.

Canal 9 news reported that the company, located in Jaco, closed its doors today and cancelled all bookings, leaving employees uncertain if they have a job tomorrow.

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