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Cruise ship rescues three fishermen off Canada

'These guys would have been toast'

Three fishermen were rescued by a cruise ship after their vessel sank in 12-foot seas.
Three fishermen were rescued by a cruise ship after their vessel sank in 12-foot seas.

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (CNN) -- A Royal Caribbean cruise ship returning to port after an Alaskan cruise was in time to rescue three fishermen who were hanging onto their sinking ship in frigid Canadian waters, a cruise line spokesman said Monday.

The Radiance of the Seas was sailing south toward Vancouver at 4:55 a.m. [7:55 a.m. EDT] Friday when it received a call from the Canadian Coast Guard to go to the aid of the three men, spokesman Michael Sheehan said. The ship was about 15 miles north of the sinking 80-foot fishing vessel at the time, making it the closest available ship.

With seas at 12 feet, the fishing boat had taken on too much water in its engine room, and the crew could not get the water out, Sheehan said. The men tried to use the life raft, but it blew away in 40-knot winds, he said.

"It was gale-force," said Daryl Mintenko, a spokesman for the Canadian Coast Guard in Victoria.

The cruise ship went from 17 to 23 knots, speedy for a cruise ship, and managed to reach the men at 6 a.m., Sheehan said. About half-dozen crew members assembled for the rescue.

"We lowered a rescue boat -- a smaller rescue boat from our ship -- and sent them out," he said.

Two of the fishermen were wearing dry suits, which are meant to keep the wearer dry and warm in the water, and the third man wore a wet suit. In 50-degree water, the suits saved the men's lives, Sheehan said.

"If you were lucky, you would last about an hour and a half," which was the length of time the men had been in the sea, he said.

"They got on the ship and everybody turned around to look at their fishing boat," he said. "The only thing out of the water was a small portion of their mast."

The men made it onto the cruise ship at 6:26 a.m. and were treated by the doctors and nurses in the ship's medical facility for mild hypothermia. The men had also ingested salt water, and one had swallowed diesel fuel, Sheehan said.

At 4:30 p.m. [7:30 EDT], a Coast Guard vessel picked the fishermen up from the ship and brought them to Port Hardy, about 230 miles north of Vancouver, where they were admitted to Port Hardy General Hospital, Mintenko said.

Port Hardy was the central point among the three fishermen's homes, and the wife of one of the men was able to drive up to see her husband, Mintenko said.

"[The rescue] was just a good example of a system working well, and three guys having a problem in the right place at the right time," Sheehan said. "These guys would have been toast."

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