A CANADIAN sailing ship filled with high school and college students sank off the coast of Brazil in strong winds, but officials said all 64 people aboard were rescued Friday after about 16 hours in rafts tossed by rough seas.

Edgardo Ybranez, captain of the Philippine flagged Hokuetsu Delight cargo ship, told The Associated Press via satellite phone that his ship rescued 44 of the victims in rough, dangerous seas. The remaining people were picked up by another ship.

Forty-eight students — in grades 11, 12 and university freshmen — were aboard the vessel, said Kate Knight, head of West Island College International of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, which operates the Class Afloat program.

Ybranez said the SV Concordia's doctor had suffered an injury before the rescue, "but he is OK now." He gave no more details.

All the rest were unhurt, Ybranez said: "You can tell their parents that everything is OK; everybody aboard my ship is fine."

The captain declined to put one of the survivors on the telephone. "They are all downstairs sleeping because they are exhausted, so I don't want to call any of them up," he said before cutting off the call to communicate with his employers.

A distress signal was picked up from the three-masted SV Concordia about 5 p.m. (2 p.m. EST; 1900 GMT) Thursday, Brazil's Navy said in a statement and an Air Force plane later spotted life rafts floating in the ocean about 300 miles (500 kilometers) off the coast of Rio de Janeiro.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement thanking the Brazilian Navy and the merchant crews "for their swift and heroic response."

"The skill and compassion demonstrated by Brazilian rescuers is a tribute to their training, spirit and seamanship," he said. (AP)