2 people rescued in Strait due to incident with orcas, caution urged.

A group of orcas have sunk a sailboat sailing in Moroccan waters in the Strait of Gibraltar, with its two crew members having to be rescued by the authorities of the African country, following a warning received from Maritime Rescue.

The incident occurred last Sunday, May 12, around 9:00 a.m., when the two occupants of the 15-meter long sailboat 'Alborán Cognac' experienced an interaction with a group of orcas 14 miles off Cape Espartel, in Morocco, as confirmed by Maritime Rescue.

The distress call requested their evacuation as they had felt blows to the hull caused by these cetaceans, resulting in damage to the rudder and a leak. Meanwhile, from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Tarifa (Cádiz), they were advised to put on life jackets, activate the AIS (Automatic Identification System), and have the radio beacons ready for their location if necessary.

Maritime Rescue then informed the Moroccan authorities, as they were in waters under their jurisdiction, indicating "the urgency" of the evacuation. However, a Helimer 223 helicopter was also mobilized from the Coordination Center, and permission was requested from Morocco to intervene in the rescue. Additionally, the tanker 'MT Lascaux,' which was sailing near the scene, was asked to go to the sailboat's position to provide assistance.

Later, Rabat confirmed being in contact with the tanker, to whom they were giving instructions to collaborate in the rescue, so the presence of the Salvage helicopter in the area was not necessary as coordination of the emergency was being assumed from Morocco.

Around 10:00 a.m. that same morning, a communication was received at the Tarifa Coordination Center informing that the two crew members of the sailboat had been rescued by the tanker, with their boat left adrift and subsequently sinking due to the damage. The two crew members were taken to Gibraltar, where they disembarked shortly before 10:30 p.m. on Sunday.

This is the first known interaction with orcas that has occurred in the waters of the Strait of Gibraltar this year, with the arrival of good weather. According to experts, interactions between orcas and boats "are not aggressive," but rather "more related" to a behavior "of play or socialization than aggression."

The Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge (Miteco) and the Ministry of Transport and Sustainable Mobility (Mitma) have recalled in a statement the recommendations and guidelines established for sailors in case of sighting or interaction with orcas in the Atlantic, with the aim of avoiding or minimizing risks for crew members, boats, navigation, and the cetaceans themselves.

These recommendations are applicable throughout the year, but should be particularly observed during the months of April to August in the delimited area of the Gulf of Cádiz and the Strait of Gibraltar, as it is "an area of high probability of orca presence, especially during those months."

Thus, it is indicated that in case of interaction with these cetaceans, continue sailing towards the coast to shallower waters, as well as avoiding navigation in the delimited area of the Gulf of Cádiz and the Strait of Gibraltar indicated during the months of April to August, and sailing "as close as possible to the coast within safety limits." Additionally, it is requested to prevent people on board the affected vessel from approaching the sides, placing themselves in positions that offer "the greatest possible protection against any sudden movements that could cause injuries or falling into the sea."

Both ministries also point out that measures and deterrent actions that may cause "death, harm, annoyance, or disturbance to the cetaceans" should be avoided, as well as reporting these sightings to the nearest Maritime Rescue Coordination Center through the corresponding VHF channels (channel 16 or working channel).

The orca population in the Strait of Gibraltar and the Gulf of Cádiz is classified as "vulnerable" in the Spanish Catalog of Threatened Species (CEEA) developed by Royal Decree 139/2011, of February 4. For species included in the CEEA, any action aimed at killing, capturing, pursuing, or disturbing them is prohibited.

Among the measures for cetacean protection is the prohibition of approaching the vessel to less than 60 meters, throwing food, drinks, garbage, or any other type of object or substance that is harmful to the cetaceans, as well as not producing loud or strident noises and sounds to attract or repel them, including sound emission underwater.

This orca population has a conservation plan developed by Order APM/427/2017 of May 4, which approves protection measures, and the Conservation Plan for the orcas of the Strait and Gulf of Cádiz, which prohibits in its article 4.3 carrying out the activity of cetacean watching, whether commercial, private, or scientific, in the critical area of Barbate, Conil, and Banco Majuán, during the critical period for the species, which takes place from March 1 to August 31.