Nova Scotia

Troubled yacht's travel off N.S. 'irregular'

While officials have yet to determine whether a sailboat that sank off the coast of Nova Scotia was involved in human smuggling, its travel plan was "irregular," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday.

Incident investigated as possible human smuggling attempt

While officials have yet to determine whether a sailboat that sank off the coast of Nova Scotia was involved in human smuggling, its travel plan was "irregular," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday. 

Speaking with reporters, Kenney said the federal government wasn't aware the SV Tabasco 2 was bound for Canada. The yacht got into trouble in heavy seas early Tuesday morning, leaving one man dead and three other sailors missing at sea.

"If, indeed, this was a smuggling operation, I think it underscores the need for us to take action against it," Kenney said.

"This vessel wasn't registered so there was something irregular going on. It certainly is a matter of concern. We grieve for the loss of life but it certainly underscores that if people want to come to Canada, they should do so the conventional and legal way."

RCMP are expected to speak with the five men who survived the boating tragedy. One immigration and passport team is in Yarmouth, N.S., and a second is in Saint John, N.B., an RCMP spokeswoman told CBC News on Wednesday.

"They are actively pursuing a number of leads and have not ruled out any possibilities," Const. Tammy Loeb said.

Tanker reaches port

Two survivors are at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital with RCMP officers and Canada Border Services Agency officials. A tanker, which picked up three other survivors, docked in Saint John on Wednesday afternoon.

Two survivors of the sinking of MV Tabasco 2 are in hospital in Yarmouth, N.S. (CBC)

Nine men — all believed to be from eastern Europe — were on the SV Tabasco 2 when it was crippled in rough seas about 148 kilometres south of Cape Sable Island.

The call for help went out at about 10:30 p.m. Monday night.

The tanker FSL Hamburg rescued three of the men. A military search-and-rescue team hoisted three others off the stricken yacht, including one man who later died.

The search for three missing men was called off on Tuesday night. It's now a missing persons case.

RCMP confirmed Wednesday the SV Tabasco 2 was on its way to Nova Scotia when it sank.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said in a statement that the disaster is being investigated as a failed attempt at human smuggling.

"There is an enormous and unnecessary risk involved with the act of human smuggling. Our government's message is clear to those contemplating a human smuggling operation — don't do it," he said.

Toews said several survivors had claimed refugee status, but the Canada Border Services Agency couldn't confirm that.

Many questions

Chastity McKinnon, spokeswoman for the agency, said anyone making an official claim must do so at a port of entry, which means none of the people aboard the tanker could make a claim until they reach Saint John.

McKinnon also could not say whether a human smuggling investigation had been launched.

The stricken MV Tabasco 2 was south of Cape Sable Island when it called for help. It has sunk, officials say. (CBC)

The tanker FSL Hamburg, which stayed at the scene Tuesday as part of the search for the three missing men, arrived in Saint John just after 3 p.m. AT Wednesday.

The two men in hospital in Yarmouth were listed in fair condition on Tuesday.

It's still unclear where the SV Tabasco 2 was from or where it was headed.

Immigration lawyer Lee Cohen said the case of the nine men begs a number of questions.

"Did they pay to be on the vessel? How much did they pay to be on the vessel? Who did they pay? Who are the operatives here? Were the operatives the same people who were actually handling the vessel on the high seas?" he said.

"This is the kind of information the [RCMP] will seek."

With files from The Canadian Press