Atlantic search for missing UK yacht Cheeki Rafiki ends

James Male, Andrew Bridge, Steve Warren, Paul Goslin James Male, Andrew Bridge, Steve Warren and Paul Goslin (l-r) are all experienced yachtsmen

A search has been called off for four Britons missing in the Atlantic after their yacht began taking in water.

The men were taking the Cheeki Rafiki 40ft performance racer-cruiser to the UK after a Caribbean regatta.

Contact was lost early on Friday. It is thought they could have moved to a life raft after capsizing.

Southampton charter firm Stormforce Coaching said it was "devastated" the US Coastguard-organised air and sea search had ended "so soon".

Start Quote

The family are keen to emphasise the men are very well trained for this eventuality”

End Quote Caroline Nokes Romsey and Southampton North MP

US Coastguard spokesman Rob Simpson said it had "saturated the area" in a two-day search and "we would have found them" if it had been possible.

The Royal Yachting Association named the four crew members as Andrew Bridge, 21, from Farnham, Surrey, the yacht's skipper; Paul Goslin, 56, from West Camel, Somerset; Steve Warren, 52, from Bridgwater, Somerset, and 23-year-old James Male, from Southampton. It described all four as "very experienced offshore yachtsmen".

The crew ran into difficulties on Thursday while returning from Antigua Sailing Week.

They were delivering the vessel back after it participated in the week - one of the world's top regattas - when it started taking on water.

Cheeki Rafiki The Cheeki Rafiki, seen here in a photograph issued by the Royal Yachting Association, had taken part in Antigua Sailing Week

Stormforce director Doug Innes said: "We were in contact with the skipper and at the time the yacht and crew were keeping the situation stable.

"They had not been able to ascertain where the water ingress was from and were diverting to the Azores.

"Unfortunately we lost contact during the early hours of Friday morning and we believe it is possible the crew abandoned to the life raft."

Keep searching plea

Three US and Canadian aircraft and three merchant vessels looked for them on Friday and Saturday about 1,000 miles east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Mr Innes said the search efforts had been "exceptional" but the company was "devastated that the search has now been called off so soon".

The RYA said typical supplies on a life raft would include survival suits, water, food, flares and a first aid kit.

Craig Burton from the RYA said there was "always a hope" and "understandably the family and friends of all those on board want the search to continue".

But he said "rescue organisations don't take that decision lightly... they don't easily call off or postpone a search".

Caroline Nokes, the Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North told the BBC News Channel she had been in contact with the Foreign Office and it was "investigating every avenue it can do" to try and encourage the US coastguard to act for longer.

Ms Nokes, who spoke to the family and girlfriend of Mr Male, said they believe the "men are safe in that life raft... they are just asking for a bit more time".

She said: "The family are keen to emphasise the men are very well trained for this eventuality."

'Overturned hull'

In a press release, the US Coastguard said the search area had involved approximately 4,146 square miles and it was "extremely disappointed" not to have found the sailors.

Winds at the start of the search were said to have been blowing at more than 50mph, the sea reached heights of up to 20ft and visibility was reduced to under a mile.

"It is extremely challenging to respond to a distress case so far off shore, which is why it takes a joint effort with our international partners to put forward an effective search," it said.

Map showing search area for yacht The search took place over about 4,186 square miles in the mid-Atlantic

Coast guard spokesman Mr Simpson told the BBC on Sunday that two of the yachtmen's locator beacons had been activated, providing it with some "general GPS co-ordinates".

He said they had not been able to link any debris found to the Cheeki Rafiki, but an overturned hull had been spotted by a container ship involved in the search "that did look like it may have been the sailing vessel". However, the ship did not stop to inspect the hull because nobody was seen on board.

Aircraft and ships travelling through the area have been alerted to the missing yacht, he added.

Cost was not a factor in the decision to call off the search, which would only restart if new information came to light, he said.

The Foreign Office confirmed it was aware of the missing yacht.

"We are in contact with the US Coastguard and have offered consular assistance to the families."

On Twitter, Antigua Sailing Week organisers said they were "shocked and saddened to hear that yacht and crew of our friends Cheeki Rafiki are missing in the Atlantic".

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