Canada investigating human smuggling on boat

One man is dead and three are missing and presumed dead after a yacht carrying nine people issued a distress call off the coast of Nova Scotia in what is being investigated as a case of human smuggling.

Canadian search-and-rescue crews rescued five people Tuesday morning and said another died later at a hospital. A search for three other people who were on board the SV Tabasco 2 was called off by early evening Tuesday and turned over to police as a missing persons case.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said some of those rescued from the yacht, which experienced mechanical problems about 90 miles south of the southern part of Nova Scotia, have claimed refugee status and the incident is being treated as a suspected case of human smuggling. Toews did not say how many of the five people who were rescued have claimed refugee status.

A rescue helicopter hoisted three men from the Atlantic Ocean, and two of them are now in a hospital, while the third man died. Three other men were taken aboard a tanker, which was headed to Canada.

The boat issued a distress call after running into trouble at about 10:30 p.m. Monday.

Lt.-Col. Guy Leblanc, co-pilot of the rescue helicopter, said the three men he took on board appeared to be in their 40s and were from Russia, Ukraine and Georgia. The military said everyone who was on board the yacht is believed to be a foreign national.

Military officials said they did not know where the vessel was from, where it was going or what it was doing at sea at the time it sent the distress call. Capt. Bertrand Thibodeau, the pilot of a plane involved in the search early Tuesday, said the conditions were some of the harshest he'd seen.