Whale watching ship with 27 onboard sinks off British Columbia coast; at least 3 dead

TOFINO, British Columbia -- At least three people died when a tour boat carrying 27 people sank off the coast of British Columbia on Sunday.

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre confirmed that the vessel made a mayday call shortly before 4 p.m. Sunday near Tofino, British Columbia.

“There are fatalities involved, and survivors. We are also conducting a search to confirm that we’ve recovered everybody,” the centre said in a recorded message.

The boat was a whale-watching vessel, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It cited a witness saying that the boat sank far enough from shore that it could not be seen.

"You could see the smaller boats going back and forth to try and help bring people back to shore," Rami Touffaha told CBC. "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."

Jenn Hamilton, a spokeswoman for British Columbia Emergency Health Services, said at least three were dead.

Hamilton said she did not have further details including nationalities of the deceased.

She didn't know how far off the coast of British Columbia the boat sank. Five ambulances were dispatched and many off duty paramedics went to the dock to help, she said.