Sailor could be adrift from yacht

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The Independent Online
Rescuers searching for the British yachtsman Tony Bullimore said early today that they feared for his safety after admitting that he could now be floating in the freezing Southern Ocean, away from his upturned yacht, Exide Challenger, which capsized on Sunday 1,500 miles south-west of Perth, Western Australia.

The Australian acting Defence Minister Bronwyn Bishop said rescue officials now believed the emergency beacon attached to Mr Bullimore, 56, was separated from the upturned hull of his yacht.

"As of today we'll be searching for that beacon which we've now established as being outside the vessel," Bishop said. "It had been thought previously that he could have been inside the hull ... but it is now thought that we should now look for that beacon because we believe of course that he could be attached to that beacon," Bishop said.

Thierry Dubois, a fellow competitor in the Vendee Globe round-the-world race, who also capsized, was last night described as "exceptionally well". He has a radio and is in a liferaft. Rescuers hope he can help guide them to Mr Bullimore.

Rick Burleigh, manager of search- and-rescue operations at the Maritime Rescue Centre in Canberra, said: "We are trying to ascertainwhether he can throw any light on Tony, because when this incident started they were reasonably close together. They may have been talking together and that could assist in establishing whether Tony is battened down inside his boat or not."

Hopes for Mr Bullimore's safety were dented by the news that he had not sent a second distress signal, as was thought yesterday.

As the operation continued, some Australians asked why they were being requested to pay millions of pounds to help international yachtsmen. Under the Law of the Sea Convention, Australia has to rescue people in trouble within 1,500 miles of its coast. The rescue of Raphael Dinelli, another Frenchman who capsized in the same race on 27 December, cost pounds 77,000. The operation to save Mr Dubois and Mr Bullimore is costing that much each day for the main Orion search aircraft alone, excluding the wages of the crew. Tens of thousands more is being spent on the frigate Adelaide, 30 of whose crew were recalled from holiday to take part in the operation.

A tanker, the Sanko Phoenix, has been diverted to the scene and should arrive later tomorrow and a back-up ship, the Westralia, is to leave Perth this morning. Four aircraft are involved but because of the seven- hour flight to the site, they can stay over the area for only three and a half hours before returning.

Miss Bishop, said: "I can understand that taxpayers are concerned ...But I know that Australians are very concerned that we find these two people alive."

Race organisers were also criticised for failing to change the route after a yachtswoman got lost in the same area two years ago, prompting a pounds 1m rescue operation.

David Gray, of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, said: "We would prefer that yachts didn't go further than 45 degrees south. It's getting beyond their capabilities." Today the yachtsmen still face a five-metre swell but the wind yesterday eased to 25 knots.

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