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Probe to shed light on sinking of S.V. Concordia

The S.V. Concordia, from the website of West Island College International

A better picture of what happened to the ill-fated Concordia should soon emerge as a probe into the sunken sailing ship unfolds, the head of the Barbados Maritime Ship Registry said Tuesday.

Chris Sawyer, the principal registrar, explained that the investigation would begin with statements from the most senior crew members of the ship, which flew the flag of Barbados. Topping the list is Captain William Curry, followed by the ship's mate and the second officer.

Depending on what these three say, a deeper probe may not be necessary.

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The 188-foot ship, built as a floating classroom and dormitory, went down last week off the coast of Brazil. All 64 people aboard, many from Canada, were rescued. West Island College International, the Nova Scotia-based school that runs the Class Afloat program, hopes to finish the school term on land.

The investigation, which will be assisted by Canada's Transportation Safety Board, is to be conducted by the registry on behalf of the Barbados government. Its findings will be submitted to the International Maritime Organization.

"We should have a very good idea within a couple of weeks where we want to go [with the investigation]" Mr. Sawyer said from London, where the Barbadian registry is headquartered.

In stormy weather, a gust of wind knocked the SV Concordia right on its port side

"We may not go any further, but at this point it's impossible to say."

Barbados's flag is popular with foreign vessels. The country is on the respected "white list" of states whose ships reveal the fewest problems, and it touts the value of its registry by pointing to high-quality service and tax breaks.

Nigel McCarthy, CEO of West Island College, said foreign registry also has the advantage of allowing ships to hire crew from outside Canada. He noted that there is a "very limited" number of tall-ship masters with square-rig experience.

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He pointed to Capt. Curry, an American, as an example of someone who could not have been hired if the vessel had been registered in Canada.

The captain was on his fourth journey with the vessel, but the private school, which is accredited by the provincial department of education, has operated since the early 1980s. Mr. McCarthy said approximately 1,000 young people have paid fees to study aboard for months at a time. About the same number have done shorter stints as trainees.

The company is one of a number offering seaborne classes to high-school students. Among them, Sea Semester takes teenagers around the Pacific and Caribbean, Discovery High School Semester sails the North Atlantic, and Seamester circumnavigates the world.

West Island College International began with a leased vessel and had the Concordia built in 1992. A second ship was leased to handle an extra-large enrolment last year, but the Concordia was the only vessel the company operated this school year, Mr. McCarthy said.

He would not say how much the lost ship was insured for, but noted that the tall ship Prince William, which is for sale, was a roughly comparable vessel.

Chris Law, chief executive of the U.K.-based Tall Ships Youth Trust, said the trust hopes to get about £4.5-million for the nine-year-old Prince William. She noted that building a new version of such a ship would cost nearly four times as much.

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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