Tanker Rescues Sailors off Gibraltar as Orcas Sink First Boat in 2024

Orcas attack
Orcas off Spain (file image courtesy MITMA)

Published May 14, 2024 1:46 PM by The Maritime Executive


The now infamous pod of orcas swimming the waters near Gibraltar struck again this weekend sinking their first vessel of 2024. Scientists remain puzzled why this one pod of “killer whales” appears to have been repeatedly going after vessels in this region over the past four years. The supposition continues to be that this is “playful behavior.”

Two sailors issued a distress call on Sunday morning, May 12, while approximately 14 nautical miles from Cape Espartel near the southern entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar. They told the authorities that they had felt sudden blows to the hull and rudder of their 15-meter (49-foot) boat the Alboran Cognac. The vessel had begun taking on water and they feared additional impacts could cause a more severe inflow that would hasten the loss of the boat.

The Spanish Coast Guard sent a helicopter and contacted the product tanker Lascaux (11,674 dwt) which was sailing in the area. The tanker registered in Malta was sent to assist the sailors.

The vessel was in Moroccan waters at the time and those authorities instructed the sailors to don their life jackets and turn on their AIS signal. They were also told to prepare a radio beacon in case it was required. The tanker was able to locate the boat and took the two sailors aboard. Their boat sank after the rescue and the two individuals were taken to Gibraltar where they recounted their tale.


Spanish authorities issued a map warning sailors of the danger zone


According to reports, while it was the first incident in 2024, at least seven vessels have been wrecked over the past four years. Five sailboats and two Moroccan fishing boats have reported incidents with the orcas.

Scientists believe it is a single pod of maybe 15 animals that inhabit the waters between the north of the Iberian Peninsula and the region around Morocco and the Strait of Gibraltar. Some think that it is juveniles swimming with two adults and part of a larger herd of approximately 35 orcas. 

The scientists point out that the animals are highly intelligent. Although media reports have called these revenge attacks it is more likely instinct and playful behavior. 

Spanish authorities warn boats to not enter a zone around the strait between April and August when most of the encounters take place. In the event of interaction, whether it is a motor boat or a sailing boat, they advise do not stop the boat and navigate towards the coast, to shallower waters.