Missing UK yacht: No sign of Cheeki Rafiki - US Coast Guard

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Media captionUS Coast Guard Capt Anthony Popiel: "Unfortunately, we've had no sightings"

Four British men remain missing after search teams reported no sightings of a life-raft from the yacht at the centre of an international hunt.

US Coast Guard Capt Anthony Popiel said no decision had been taken on when to suspend the search of the mid-Atlantic.

The 40ft Cheeki Rafiki, based in Southampton, was sailing back to the UK from an Antigua regatta when it started taking on water last week.

The search was originally called off on Sunday but resumed on Tuesday.

That followed an official request from the UK government. An online petition, set up to urge the US Coast Guard to resume the search, had attracted more than 200,000 signatures.

Coastguards said on Wednesday that around 9,000 sq miles had been searched and there had been no sightings of a life-raft, debris or a boat during the day.

Capt Popiel pledged that teams would continue to hunt for the Britons as if they were "looking for a member of our own family".

The four missing crew members are Paul Goslin, 56, from West Camel, Somerset; skipper Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham, Surrey; Steve Warren, 52, also from Somerset; and 22-year-old James Male, from Romsey.

The search is set to continue into Thursday when an RAF Hercules, deployed from RAF Brize Norton on Wednesday morning, will conduct its first full scan of the search area.

Three planes and six ships have already been deployed to search the area where the sailors are thought to have disappeared - approximately 1,000 miles east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

The World Cruising Club said more members of the yachting community were joining in the search.

Five yachts are expected to enter the search zone within the next 24 to 48 hours in addition to the single yacht already there, they said.

Admiral Richard G Gurnon, president of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, told the BBC the search from the planes and boats was an "extremely difficult task".

"The weather is nasty, rarely is it calm and flat," he said.

"And when you have four or five people staring out windows for four hours at a time looking for what is about the size of basketballs in the ocean, it's extremely difficult. It's tiring, so this is not an easy task."

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Media captionThe BBC's Rajini Vaidyanathan reports as a search plane takes off from North Carolina

Adm Gurnon defended the coastguard's original decision to call off the operation, describing the organisation as "an extremely small outfit" faced with huge costs.

The Americans' reasoning for the initial decision to call off the operation was that the estimated survival time past the time of distress was approximately 20 hours, and that their crews had searched for 53 hours.

But family members had insisted the men could still be alive in the yacht's 12-man life raft.

Twelve-person life raft

A raft, such as that on board the Cheeki Rafiki, is required to meet the international standard ISO 9650, which stipulates how the craft must be constructed and what it must have on board. The rafts are highly visible and buoyant and can be boarded quickly in an emergency.

Patrick Michel, skipper of The Malisi, the first private yacht to reach the search area, said he had a "gut feeling" the search would end well.

The father of James Male, one of the youngest yachtsmen, said the skipper's assurance was "absolutely excellent".

Speaking to the BBC later, Graham Male said he wanted the search to go on for "as long as it takes to cover the areas".

Image copyright Maersk Kure
Image caption The crew of the 1,000ft Maersk Kure took this picture of what looked like an overturned yacht last weekend

He said: "Emotionally for us it's all changing, it changes by the hour.

"But I think the comfort everyone is drawing from here is that James and the other crew would have done this for us, and this is actually how they would have done it if we were in that position."

Mr Male added that his son was "cool, calm and collected" and "the person you'd want to be next to in an emergency".

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