POLICE have revealed that a man missing in Portsmouth Harbour had fallen off a Wightlink ferry.
They believe he came off an inbound ferry, the Saint Clare, between the Square and the Round Towers, as it was travelling into Portsmouth from Fishbourne.
A huge four-hour search was launched last night near the entrance of Portsmouth Harbour, involving the Solent Coastguard helicopter, lifeboat crews and police.
But this morning the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has confirmed it has stopped its search.
Police are now appealing for a young couple who witnessed the incident to come forward.
Detective Constable Allison Fraser said: ‘Our investigations have revealed that at the time the person came off the ferry, there was a young couple on the Hot Walls with a video camera.
‘We are extremely keen to get in touch with this couple as they may have seen and filmed what happened.
‘We would also like to speak to any foot passengers who travelled to the island on the 5pm sailing from Portsmouth to Fishbourne and any foot passengers on the return journey at 6pm from Fishbourne.
‘We are keen to speak to anyone else who witnessed what happened from the shore or from the ferry.’
Fiona Warren, spokeswoman for the coastguard, said: ‘The search was terminated at 10.40pm after an extensive search was carried out.
‘The search wasn’t successful in regards to finding the missing person.
‘That is the situation at the moment.
‘There are no plans underway to start the search again this morning.
‘There is an instruction for shipping to keep a look out.’
The alarm was raised at 6.35pm last night after a fisherman reported seeing a man in the water.
Hampshire Constabulary say ‘a number of witnesses’ had spotted the person in the water shouting for help.
Police say they have no idea how he came to be in the water, but are investigating whether he had fallen off a ferry.
Aaron Gent, a crewman from Portsmouth RNLI, who was involved in the search, said: ‘We got a pager with reports of a missing person sighted in the water.
‘We searched for four or five hours, quite intensive searching, but unfortunately nothing was found.
‘We were told it was a male, an adult male, that’s all we were given.
‘We were told he was seen at the entrance to the harbour by a local fisherman. We searched for a number of hours along with the coastguard helicopter but nothing has been found.’
Much of the initial search concentrated on the entrance to the harbour, around the sea wall near Fort Blockhouse, Gosport.
Rescuers also searched the water and shoreline around Old Portsmouth and Southsea. A flare was sent up shortly before 10pm to give crews a better view.
Vessels using the harbour were also informed and had been assisting in the search.
Jeff Baldwin, 28, and his girlfriend, Rosina Moore, 25, from North End, were walking along the beach when they were approached by police officers.
Mr Baldwin said: ‘As they came along the shoreline the police officer just said “if you see anything just call 999 and ask for the coastguard”. We asked “what are we looking for?”. He was a bit reluctant and said it was a missing person and they think he’s an adult.’