BARBATE – Incidents of orca attacks in the Strait of Gibraltar and off the Atlantic coast of Andalucia are increasing, with a recent attack having a devastating outcome. On Friday, a sailboat was sunk off the coast of Barbate. The crew had to be rescued by the Spanish Coast Guard.
This development is concerning for sailing enthusiasts as orcas have previously only caused damage to rudders without sinking boats. However, the attack on Friday, May 5, was different. According to the newspaper Nius, little remains of the ‘Alboran Champagne’, a fifteen-metre sailing yacht that fell victim to the most destructive orca attack ever recorded in the Strait of Gibraltar.
Crew members rescued
Although orcas have been known to play with boats and cause damage in the past, they had never before sunk one. In this instance, they attacked the rudder, resulting in the vessel being punctured. Fortunately, all four crew members were rescued by the Spanish Coast Guard, but their sailboat sank a mere 300 metres from Barbate Beach.
00:04h. Velero Alborán Champagne, con timón roto y vía de agua, tras interacción con orcas en Barbate. Salvamar Enif auxilia a los 4 ocupantes y traslada a puerto. CCS Tarifa moviliza también el Helimer 222. La Enif intenta achicar el agua pero a las 5.50 h. el velero se hunde pic.twitter.com/eRnv3tKVJk
— SALVAMENTO MARÍTIMO (@salvamentogob) May 5, 2023
Orcas have been targeting sailboats for several years, predominantly aiming at rudders. Consequently, the boats lose steering control and often require towing to the harbour.
A second attack
Another boat had also been attacked by the orcas a few hours earlier. The seven crew members, following the advice of Maritime Rescue, donned life jackets and turned off GPS and other devices until they were safely rescued. Vital Mayer, the owner of the boat, initially mistook the orcas for dolphins playing. “There were two or three of them,” he recalls. “When they attacked the helm, we realised the danger. We then understood they were killer whales. It was a shock.”
Two years ago, the Capitanía Marítima coastal authority imposed restrictions on sailboats similar to the one that recently sank, limiting their navigation to a distance of two to nine miles from the coast. However, this restriction, which applies during the high season, has not deterred the aggressive behaviour of the orcas. In a separate incident, four killer whales broke the rudder of another sailboat before leaving without causing further harm.
The sailing season has begun with intensity, and what was once seen as a nuisance has already resulted in a significant loss. The ‘Alboran Champagne’ will no longer sail, as navigating the Strait of Gibraltar has become a risky endeavour. Moreover, sailing enthusiasts are advised to exercise extreme caution.
Coast Guard advice
The Coast Guard emphasises that if you are on a boat, including a sailboat, and encounter a group of orcas, it is crucial to follow specific guidelines.
- Firstly, avoid any interaction with the animals and refrain from leaning overboard to prevent accidental falls.
- Immediately turn off the engine, maintain silence, and avoid attempting to scare the orcas away with noise.
- Contact Tráfico Marítimo promptly to report the situation and request assistance if necessary.