Family of missing yacht crew call for search to go on

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RELATIVES and colleagues of four men who went missing when a Hampshire-based yacht capsized in the mid-Atlantic Ocean have called for the American authorities to renew efforts to find them.

The crew of the Cheeki Rafiki, a 40ft Beneteau performance racer/cruiser yacht, ran into difficulties some 620 miles east of Cape Cod in Massachusetts on Thursday while returning to the UK from a regatta in Antigua.

Contact with the ship’s experienced captain Andrew Bridge, 21, and crew members James Male, 23, Steve Warren, 52, and Paul Goslin, 56, was lost in the early hours of Friday while they diverted to the Azores.

US and Canadian aircraft assisted by three merchant vessels looked for them throughout Friday and Saturday but called off the search yesterday at 5am local time amid treacherous weather conditions.

Some 4,000 square miles were scanned for the “very well-equipped” vessel’s two personal location GPS beacons until no more transmissions were received from the small devices, which have a short battery life.

On Saturday, a cargo vessel which was helping with the search spotted and photographed an overturned hull which matched the description of the Cheeki Rafiki but reported no signs of people on board or a life raft.

But Mr Bridge’s aunt, Georgina Bridge, said the family is hopeful that the US Coastguard would give the search another try

She told Sky News: ‘Obviously the family are really concerned that the search has been suspended and we are really hoping that it will be resumed.

‘We are holding out great hope that Andrew and the guys on board Cheeki Rafiki will be found.

‘We are hopeful that they were able to launch a life raft and that they are still on board that, so we would just really like the search to be resumed.”

Speaking to The Times, Mr Male’s father Graham Male said: ‘We just want them to continue searching.’

The crew had joked on social media about their lengthening beards and the food they were eating on their journey back to Southampton.

A blog posted to Facebook on Tuesday, one of their last, read: ‘And yesterday we did it ... we turned east for home, completing our first 1,000 miles [which] was celebrated with a release of a cherished beach ball with a note inside, I hope it doesn’t get home before us!

‘We are already thinking of home and the ones we love and miss, you know who you are!’

Mr Bridge, who is from Farnham in Surrey, was being paid by Southampton-based yacht training and charter company Stormforce Coaching for his role as captain, a spokeswoman for the firm said.

He had taken part in Antigua Week together with Mr Goslin, from West Camel, Somerset, Mr Warren, from Bridgwater, also in Somerset, and Mr Male, from Southampton, all described as very experienced offshore yachtsmen’.

Stormforce director Doug Innes said that the yacht had first started taking on water on Thursday but the skipper was in contact and the crew were keeping the situation stable.

‘Although the search efforts co-ordinated by Boston were exceptional we are devastated that the search has now been called off so soon,’ Mr Innes said.

‘Our thoughts are with the four yachtsmen and their families and we hope and pray for them all.’

Sailing experts questioned why no one on the Greek-registered 1,000ft container ship MAERSK KURE had tried to get down to the Southampton-based yacht when it spotted the Cheeki Rafiki’s hull, which appeared to be missing its keel.

Andrew Pindar, who runs the GAC Pindar racing team, said that crew members could still have been trapped inside the Cheeki Rafiki’s hull at that point.

And he cited the example of Tony Bullimore, who survived on a pocket of air under his capsized yacht in the Southern Ocean for five days before being rescued in 1997.

But Petty Officer Rob Simpson of the US Coastguard claimed that the ship ‘lacked the manoeuvrability, capacity and ability to help’.

‘It has a fairly limited possibility of picking anything up - it is not designed for search and rescue capabilities or anything like that or trained to do anything like that,’ he said.

Asked if others could have attended the scene where the hull was found, PO Simpson said: ‘It is not possible to take a helicopter that far off shore - the search area is very far out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The grand scale of this is immense.

‘Aircraft take four or five hours to get there and vessels can take over a week. This particular ship just happened to be in the area, they were not tasked specifically for this.’

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: ‘We are aware of a missing yacht off the East Coast of the USA with four British nationals on board.

‘We are in continual contact with the US Coastguard and are providing consular assistance to the families.’