Fishermen presumed dead as search is called off

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An air and sea search for four fishermen missing in the North Sea was abandoned yesterday.

A spokesman for Aberdeen coastguards said the decision was taken after consultation with the RAF and other rescue services. "All hopes have faded ... Nothing has been sighted, just odd bits of wreckage that may or may not have come from the missing boat."

The search was launched yesterday when the Peterhead-registered vessel Sapphire sank in heavy seas 20 miles off the Aberdeenshire coast. Skipper Victor Robertson, 28, jumped to safety from the wheelhouse of the boat and was later winched to safety by an RAF rescue helicopter.

The search - involving two helicopters and a flotilla of fishing boats - found no trace of his four colleagues, Adam Stephen, 29, Robert Stephen, 25, Victor Podlesny, 45, and Bruce Cameron, 32, all from Peterhead.

Mr Robertson told rescuers that the boat was hit by a massive wave as it returned to Peterhead after a three-day fishing trip.

In a statement released by Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, where he is recovering, Mr Robertson said: "I am devastated by the tragic events that overtook the Sapphire.

"My thoughts are with the families of my friends and colleagues ... My sincere thanks go to all members of the rescue services."