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'Fatalities' in Canadian tour boat sinking

Local media say at least five people have died after a whale-watching tour boat sank off the coast of British Columbia. Multiple injuries have been reported among the 27 people onboard.

Canada's national broadcaster CBC reported that five people were confirmed dead following the sinking of the vessel off the coast of Tofino, on Vancouver Island, on Sunday afternoon.

One person remains missing, according to rescue officials.

Citing the British Columbia Ambulance, it said 18 people were hospitalized or treated at the scene after being pulled from the water. Rescuers were still searching for remaining passengers, CBC reported.

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre confirmed that the vessel made a mayday call shortly before 4 pm local time (23:00 UTC) on Sunday but would only confirm "fatalities," without giving an exact death toll.

Local media said the boat that sank is the Leviathan II, a 20-meter (65-foot) covered cruise vessel with three decks. The vessel was operated by Jamie's Whaling Station and Adventure Centers. It was one of Jamie's last tours of the season, which ends October 31.

Resident Rami Toofaha told CBC the boat was far enough from shore that it could not be seen when it sank.

"The waters weren't choppy so I don't see what could have caused the boat to sink, but you never know in these waters unfortunately," the broadcaster cited him as saying.

No information about the cause of the accident was given.

Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne tweeted "thoughts & prayers are with passengers, crew, emergency responders & their families."

Tofino is a popular location for surfing and whale-watching tours.

Within hours of the tragedy, several residents took to social media to complain about the closing of the Tofino coastguard station earlier this year. They described how smaller boats had been roped in to help in the search and rescue operation.

mm/gsw (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)