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Captain praying for families of five dead passengers aboard B.C. vessel

(Credit: CP).

VANCOUVER — The captain of a whale-watching vessel that capsized near Tofino, B.C., says passengers and crew were heroic as the vessel went under, killing five people.

Wayne Dolby said he's praying for the families and friends of the Britons who died and an Australian man who remains missing in the waters off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

"Over the past week we have rightly heard of the courage and heroism of the people of Tofino, Ahousaht, the coast guard and others who assisted in the search and rescue," Dolby said Friday.

"What we have not heard as much about is the courage and heroism of my passengers and crew who were involved in this terrible ordeal," he said in a statement released by Jamie's Whaling Station, where he's worked for 18 years.

"(To) most of all the families, friends and loved ones of those who did not come home, I want to express my heartfelt sympathies and I pray your grief for their loss will not stay with you as long as it will stay with me," Dolby said.

Jamie's has said the vessel went under so quickly on Sunday that there was no time to issue a distress call.

The Transportation Safety Board said that many of the passengers aboard the Leviathan II were sightseeing on one side of the upper deck when a wave hit from the opposite side, flipping the boat and sending the 27 passengers and crew overboard.

Jamie's said in a statement issued Friday that the ship was fully tested and certified by Transport Canada for stability and other safety aspects after its initial modification into a whale-watching vessel almost 20 years ago, adding it was inspected by officials every year since then.

"Jamie's would never have allowed a single passenger or anyone else to be on the water in a vessel that we were not absolutely confident was safe."

Jamie's director of operations Corene Inouye said last Sunday's incident will be remembered as a "very dark day" in the company's history.

"Our company, our crews, and our staff remain heartbroken by this tragic accident and the road to healing will be a long one."

Inouye said Jamie's has been assisting authorities and will continue to find ways to help people who are dealing with what happened.

The 20-metre-long ship has been towed to a secure location, where it will be monitored by the RCMP, said Roxanne Daoust, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Safety Board.

Investigators have interviewed survivors, crew members and people who rescued passengers, but will continue to speak with more people, Daoust said.

The original TSB team has left the tourist town but investigators will return next week to examine damage to the vessel.

There is still a long way to go with the investigation, Daoust said. A naval architect will assess the ship's stability, an engineer will examine the engine, and data from electronic equipment will be analyzed.

"As we uncover information, we may find more complexities," she said, adding it's difficult to assess how long the investigation will take.

Tofino mayor Josie Osborne said residents are getting back into the regular pace of life which includes whale-watching tours returning to the water.

"It's difficult when we know that a young man's body still hasn't been recovered," she said. "There's a sense of closure that would come with that."

Tourism is key to Tofino's economy, and the mayor doesn't believe visitors will shy away.

"I think the face we've demonstrated to the world in the last days about our sense of responsibility and humanity towards each other makes us the kind of community that people would want to visit anyway," Osborne said.

The Canadian Press

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