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'One of the single most terrifying things ever': Ontario couple among passengers on sinking tour boat in Dominican Republic

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A Toronto couple are speaking out about their “extremely dangerous” experience on board a sinking tour boat in the Dominican Republic last week.

Brock MacKenzie and his partner, Kerri Wolanski, were enjoying a tour of the Haitises National Park caves on Monday, April 15 when they first noticed water seeping onto their boat.

MacKenzie said that he initially didn’t understand what was happening but soon realized the seriousness of the situation, as the boat was approximately 25 minutes from shore at the time.

“I looked over (at Wolanski) and I’m like, ‘how are you getting wet?’ Like I couldn’t figure out where the water was coming from,” MacKenzie said in an interview with CTV News Toronto. “I happened to look around and the boat was sinking.”

MacKenzie said that there were around 30 other people on board the boat at the time – including at least one child and some seniors.

He said that most of the passengers were not wearing life jackets and that crew members “handed out rum” as the boat took on water.

“The craziest part about the whole trip was not the fact that the boat took on water,” MacKenzie said. “It’s that we left and nobody had lifejackets on, there was no safety, nobody talked about safety of this boat, what happens if [the boat was to take on water].”

Boat was taken to nearby island

The boat -- according to its operator Grupo Pinero -- took a blow to its hull on the starboard side, seemingly caused by a floating log.

In a statement provided to CTV News Toronto, the company said that that the captain followed “all the protocols starting with the request for a rescue service, inspection of the ship, and following the rules by everyone on board.”

The company said that after inspecting the boat the captain then decided to take it to Cayo Levantado, a nearby island, while a relief boat was en-route to take the passengers back to shore.

A catamaran boat used for excursions in the Dominican Republic by Grupo Pinero began taking on water while at sea on Monday, April 15, 2024. There were around 30 people onboard, including some Canadian travelers who called it a ‘terrifying’ experience. (Photo courtesy Brock MacKenzie).

“As soon as the boat’s captain realized the breakdown, he asked for support and followed all the protocols,” the statement notes. 

Crew 'did nothing, they explained nothing'

Grupo Pinero said that its protocols requires all passengers to wear vests at all times but MacKenzie said that no one was wearing a lifejacket during the excursion. He added that over the 40 minutes that it took for the relief boat to arrive and safely transfer passengers, the crew “did nothing” to fit passengers with lifejackets either.

“We made sure that they all had lifejackets on,” he said about the children and senior citizens onboard. “The crew? Have no idea where they were.”

“…This was one of the single most terrifying things ever,” he said.

There were no reported injuries as a result of the incident and the passengers on board the boat all eventually made it back to shore safely.

When they did, MacKenzie said that Grupo Pinero asked passengers to sign legal documents about what happened. The document, an image of which was provided to CTV News Toronto, asked the passengers to agree that there was a “minor inconvenience” with the boat that was “immediately corrected” by the company.

According to MacKenzie, no one signed the document.

Shortly after getting back to shore, passengers onboard a sinking ship were given documents to sign from Grupo Pinero, the tourism group that took travelers on the excursion. According to one Canadian passenger, no one signed the documents and some are considering legal action. (Photo credit Brock MacKenzie).

MacKenzie told CTV News Toronto that the tour was purchased through an Air Transat representative

In a statement, Air Transat said that they have been reaching out to all affected clients since the incident to offer a refund for the excursion, “and to personally ensure that the resolution of this matter meets their satisfaction.”

MacKenzie said that in the wake of the incident he is considering reaching out to a lawyer, as he’s concerned that the tour operator is not going to make necessary safety changes.

“Chalk it up to life experience or whatever,” he said. “But they’re not going to change what they do until somebody holds them accountable for the fact that it was extremely dangerous, what happened out there.”

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