MADRID (AP) — A Spanish fishing boat sank early Tuesday in rough seas off Newfoundland in eastern Canada, killing at least four people, Spain’s maritime rescue service said. Three crew members were saved and a maritime search was launched for the 17 other crew members still missing.

The 50-meter (164-feet) long fishing boat named Villa de Pitanxo, which operates out of northwest Spain’s Galicia region, sank in the dark (around 0600 GMT, 1 a.m. EST), Spain’s regional representative, Maica Larriba, told Spanish public radio.

The 24-member crew of the sunken vessel included 16 Spaniards, five Peruvians and three workers from Ghana, the service said. It was not clear yet who had been rescued.

A rescue center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, operated by Canada’s air force and coast guard, dispatched a helicopter, a Hercules-type aircraft and a rescue vessel to the area, which is 450 kilometers (280 miles) off the island of Newfoundland.

“The fishing vessel has not been found,” the rescue center wrote on Twitter. “The search continues for the remaining crew and we hold out hope that we will find them.”

A Spanish fishing boat working not far from the site of the sinking was the first to arrive and found three survivors and four bodies in one of the fishing boat’s four lifeboats, officials said. Two of the emergency boats were empty and the fourth was reportedly unaccounted for.

Spain’s maritime rescue center in the Spanish capital of Madrid received the first alert from the beacon on the Villa de Pitanxo and coordinated the early response with the Halifax rescue center, a spokeswoman with the service said.

The boat’s owner, Grupo Nores, didn’t immediately reply to calls or written questions. According to its website, the group operates fishing fleets in waters off Argentina, Canada, Morocco, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal as well as in the North Sea.

The news was a tragic blow to the port town of Marin in northwestern Galicia, where many make a living by the sea. Marin Mayor María Ramallo said the sinking of the boat was the biggest tragedy on record for the community.

“We can’t remember anything worse than this,” Ramallo told Spain’s state news agency, EFE.


Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, contributed to this report.