The US Coast Guard calls off a search for crew of Cheeki Rafiki

A search and rescue operation by the US Coast Guard has been called off after two days spent trying to locate the missing yachtsmen from the Beneteau First 40.7, Cheeki Rafiki.

The four man crew was delivering the boat back from Antigua to Southampton when they are understood to have run into trouble when the boat started taking on water last Thursday.

The skipper was in touch with Stormforce Coaching, the company that runs the charter race boat and informed them that the crew were ‘keeping the situation stable’ according to a statement from the company principal Doug Innes.

‘Unfortunately we lost contact during the early hours of Friday morning and we believe the crew abandoned to the life raft, the statement continues. ‘Search and Rescue authorities were mobilised and a mixture of Canadian and US aircraft along with merchant vessels searched throughout Friday and Saturday. Although the search efforts co ordinated by Boston were exceptional we are devastated that search has been called off so soon after the abandonment to a life-raft.’

It is understood that the initial position of the distress was 38-45N, 048-00W and that a later Personal Locator beacon position was 38-34.9N; 048-15.4W at 2310Z on 16 May 2014. Broadly speaking, midway between the eastern coast of the USA and the Azores.

Later, in winds of 30 knots and sea state of around 4m a container ship, the M/V Maersk Kure discovered an upturned vessel in an area that is said to be consistent with where the Cheeki Rafiki could have drifted to. A photograph taken from the deck of the container ship appears to show an upturned sailing hull with no keel.

Reports from the ship also suggest that there were no signs of life aboard the boat and that the ship did not investigate the upturned hull.

Petty Officer Rob Simpson, a spokesman for the US Coastguard, was quoted in the Daily Telegraph as saying, “The Maersk Kure is a 1,000ft container ship which does not have 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.”

Asked if others could have attended the scene where the hull was found, he said: “It is not possible to take a helicopter that far offshore – 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.”

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

Meanwhile there was still hope among the sailing community that the crew had abandoned ship and taken to a liferaft.

It is understood that a second distress signal from a McMurdo Fastfind PLB (personal locator beacon) which has to be manually activated and with a signal that is unlikely to transmit through the hull of the boat, suggests that a crew member had activated it. It is this that is providing hope for family, friends and colleagues that the crew boarded the liferaft.

The missing crew are Paul Goslin, 56, from West Camel, Somerset, Steve Warren, 52, from Bridgwater, Somerset, Andrew Bridge, 21, from Farnham, Surrey, and 23-year-old James Male, from Southampton.