Killer whales 'tear bits off boat' in 'scary' hour-long attack off Spanish coast

Orcas severely damaged a yacht off the coast of southern Spain - the latest in one of a number of killer whale attacks on vessels in the area.

The pod broke the rudder and pierced the hull of the Mustique while it was on its way to Gibraltar in the early hours of Thursday.

The damage forced its crew of four to contact Spanish authorities for help, a spokesman for the maritime rescue service said.

The service deployed a rapid-response vessel and a helicopter carrying a bilge pump to assist the 20-metre (66 feet) vessel, which was sailing under a British flag.

British sailor April Boyes was aboard the Mustique and shared photographs and video of the damage done by the orcas to her Instagram account.

In one of the videos, she can be heard saying, "it's like they are biting it apart".

She later said: "What started off as a seemingly unique encounter ended with orcas breaking off our rudder from the boat, then proceeding to tear bits off the boat for an hour.

"A huge hole in the hull meant we had water ingress to other parts of the boat and the engine room and I can honestly say it was a scary experience. We are all safe, I'm feeling grateful for the coastguard."

The Mustique was towed to the port of Barbate, in the province of Cadiz, for repairs.

According to the research group GTOA, which tracks populations of the Iberian orca sub-species, the incident follows at least 20 incidents this month alone in the Strait of Gibraltar between small vessels and the highly social apex predators.

In 2022, there were 207 reported interactions, GTOA data showed.

Earlier in May, the sailing yacht Alboran Champagne suffered a similar impact from three orcas half a nautical mile off Barbate.

The ship could not be towed as it was completely flooded and was left adrift to sink.

Guidelines issued by the Spanish Transport Ministry stipulate that whenever ships observe any alteration in the behaviour of orcas - such as sudden changes of direction or speed - they should leave the area as soon as possible and avoid further disturbance to the animals during the manoeuvres.

Every interaction between a ship and an orca must be reported to authorities, the ministry added.

Although known as killer whales, endangered orcas are part of the dolphin family.

They can measure up to eight metres and weigh up to six tonnes as adults.