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Officials scale back search for fishing boat captain who refused to abandon ship

CANSO, N.S. — The fishing boat captain who refused to abandon his vessel after it ran aground off the northeastern coast of Nova Scotia is missing, with officials saying there is "very little chance" he will be located alive.

Forty-eight hours after the Fisherman's Provider II rammed into a rocky shoal near Canso on Tuesday, search and rescue officials said they were scaling back efforts to locate the missing man.

"We have had no indications of life on the vessel. There is very little chance there will be a positive outcome to this case," said Maj. Mark Norris of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax on Thursday.

The crew of the fishing boat issued a mayday call at about 8 p.m. Tuesday, indicating the vessel had run aground and they were abandoning ship onto a life raft.

A local fishing vessel was first on the scene, rescuing three crew members less than an hour after the emergency call went out. But the captain of the fishing boat refused to leave his vessel.

"The captain was adamant about remaining on board. He was very clear about having no interest of abandoning when they left and that was the last communication with him," said Marc Ouellette, regional supervisor with the Canadian Coast Guard's Maritime Search and Rescue unit. "It's not uncommon for a captain to want to remain on board to attempt to save the vessel."

Local volunteers arrived next on the scene, followed by the Bickerton and the Cape Roger — both Coast Guard ships.

But the fishing boat's precarious position perched atop a craggy shoal — coupled with blustery winter weather — prevented search and rescue officials from boarding the boat, Ouellette said, noting that there has been no sign of the captain.

"When we reduce the search it's because we believe we've made every effort available, and we do not reasonably think that the person would be located alive," he said.

Meanwhile, the Royal Canadian Air Force dispatched a Hercules aircraft and a Cormorant helicopter from 14 Wing Greenwood, Norris said.

Radar and infrared searches revealed no "heat signatures" on the vessel or in the area within a 10-kilometre radius.

"We will hand this over to the RCMP as a missing persons case," Norris said, adding that officials have been in "close contact" with the captain's next-of-kin about the situation.

The Transportation Safety Board said it has deployed a team to Sydney, N.S., to investigate.

Ouellette said the boat was equipped with immersion suits, or waterproof survival suits, but it's unclear whether the captain was wearing one.

- By Brett Bundale in Halifax

The Canadian Press

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