Coastguard suspends Cemfjord crew search in Pentland Firth

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Media caption,

The search for the crew members has now become a recovery operation

The search for the missing crew of the cargo ship Cemfjord in the Pentland Firth has been suspended.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said that by last light on Sunday nothing had been found.

The bulk carrier had a crew of eight - seven Polish nationals and one Filipino. It capsized before sinking.

The vessel's upturned hull was found by a passing ferry in the Pentland Firth on Saturday.

An MCA statement said: "The families of the missing crew have been notified. The coastguard will continue to broadcast messages to all shipping requesting that they are informed about any information or sightings that could be related to the vessel.

"The Marine Accident Investigation Branch has been informed and is about to begin work on the investigation."

Shetland Coastguard said there would only be a fresh search of the area on Monday if new information came to light.

A spokeswoman said the vessel 'Pharos' would carry out out a scan of the sea bed to get an accurate picture of the sunken vessel's position.

Vessel managers Brise of Hamburg confirmed that no trace of the ship's crew had been found.

It said in a statement: "An intensive air and sea search has yet to locate the missing eight crew of the cement carrier Cemfjord which capsized in a storm off the north coast of Scotland.

"Brise of Hamburg, the vessel managers, regret that despite the best efforts of the search teams no trace has been found of the Cemfjord's crew. The search has been suspended for the night.

"During Sunday, the naval vessel HMS Somerset searched an area in the west of the Pentland Firth while a fixed-wing aircraft searched to the east. A coastguard helicopter and four lifeboats also participated in the search.

"During the night Sunday/Monday the Coastguard tug Herakles will remain at the presumed position of the submerged Cemfjord."

There had been no distress call from the ship which was carrying a bulk load of cement from Denmark.

The last confirmed sighting of the ship was at about 13:00 on Friday.

It is understood the alarm was raised by the crew of the ferry Hrossey at 14:30 on Saturday.

The Hrossey, which was sailing to Aberdeen, spent time in the area looking for survivors.

Image source, Caitlin Ditchfield
Image source, Caitlin Ditchfield

Passenger Caitlin Ditchfield said: "About two hours into the journey, the NorthLink ferry we were on strangely stopped in the middle of the sea.

"Then from the window we could see the hull of the cargo ship in the water.

"After a while the captain made an announcement that he had called the three closest coastguards but they had asked that the ferry conduct a search while the lifeboats made their way to us.

"The ferry started to circle the ship looking for any debris. We were at the scene for two-and-a-half hours before the coastguards said we could carry on with our journey."

The Cemfjord was built in 1984 and was converted to a specialist cement carrier in 1998.

On this voyage, it was carrying 2,000 tonnes of cement and had been sailing from Aalborg in Denmark to Runcorn in Cheshire. It was due to arrive on Monday.

Brise of Hamburg said the ship had successfully completed its classification renewal inspections during December 2014.

Searchers have been concentrating their efforts on areas of coastline where debris may have been washed ashore.

An inflatable boat was recovered by a team in Orkney but the coastguard said they have been unable to confirm if it came from the Cemfjord.

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