Canadian woman pushes for search to continue for partner missing from livestock boat near Japan

A Kitchener woman is urging officials to keep up the search for her partner, who is among 40 crew members still missing from a livestock ship that capsized near Japan last week.

Carolyn Gray believes her partner, 27-year-old William Mainprize, is alive and can return home safely.

“It might sound crazy, but I feel that Will is still alive,” Gray told CBC News.

Mainprize is Australian and was working as a stockman on the Gulf Livestock 1, which left New Zealand in mid-August to carry 5,800 cows to China’s eastern coast.

On Sept. 2, the ship sent a distress signal from the East China Sea as a typhoon passed through the area. The first survivor rescued from the ship told Coast Guard officials that the boat stalled when an engine stopped, then capsized after being hit broadside by a powerful wave and finally, sank.

So far, two survivors have been rescued and the body of a third crew member was recovered. The search was temporarily halted due to a typhoon, but the Coast Guard said Japanese ships were back at sea looking for crew members early this week.

The total crew included 39 people from the Philippines, two from New Zealand and two from Australia. The body of the crew member who died has not been identified.

‘No way around it’

In the days leading up to the typhoon, Mainprize sent Gray messages about growing wind speeds and bad weather. The waves were so strong, he said, he was tossed out of bed at night.

In a text message, Mainprize told Gray the ship was headed toward the centre of the typhoon.

“No way around this sucka!” he said in a message provided to CBC News.

Mainprize wrote often how excited he was to see his partner after the trip was over. 

After having spent more than a year in a long-distance relationship, Gray and Mainprize planned to reunite after his job on the livestock ship was complete. They planed to move to Australia together.

“I think he was just trying to really stay calm and collected and having more faith in the boat to make it through a storm like this,” said Gray.

Gray says her partner sent her a video showing water starting to come onto the ship. (Submitted by Carolyn Gray)

Mainprize worked on ships throughout his early 20s but hadn’t intended to be part of a crew this year. He lost his job as a wilderness guide when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and started taking work on boats again to make money.

This was supposed to be his last boat, said Gray.

Mainprize was planning to go back to school for an education degree and become a geography teacher. 

Staying strong

Gray has faith in her partner’s survival skills and sense of calm under pressure. She believes he’s alive but says time is of the essence for search and rescue efforts to be successful. 

“If there’s anybody that is capable of surviving something like this, it is him,” said Gray.

(Submitted by Carolyn Gray)

In a joint statement issued Friday, the Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs said they have been assured by Japanese officials that the search continues by air and sea.

“Japan’s Coast Guard has assured Australia it will not give up its search for those missing,” the statement said.

The statement also said the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing the families of those missing with consular assistance.

Gray, who graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University and lived in Kitchener for 10 years, had been in Egypt before the typhoon. 

The Australian government has provided her with a visa and a compassionate exemption to travel to Sydney, near Mainprize’s family. She is quarantining alone in a hotel room before she can join them.

Until then, Gray said she will wait by her phone for news.

“I would want him to know that we’re coming, and to stay strong, and to not give up,” she said.

Gray and Mainprize met while travelling and had been in a long-distance relationship. After his work on the Gulf Livestock 1 was complete, the pair planned to reunite and with an eye to moving to Australia together. (Submitted by Carolyn Gray)

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