Hopes fading for missing Weymouth fishermen


Hopes were fading today for three popular fishermen missing since yesterday morning as coastguards found an object on the sea bed.

The men, named locally as 37-year-old skipper David McFarland, crewman Robert Prowse, 23, and Jack Craig, 22, have not been seen or heard from since leaving Weymouth on their 36ft "potter" the Purbeck Isle.

Searches have been under way off the Dorset coast since they were reported missing at around 6pm last night, including help from Navy warships, and today coastguards continued to search a 10-mile area off the coast of Portland Bill using a helicopter and a lifeboat.

Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokesman Fred Caygill said teams are hoping to send down specialist equipment to look at an object, a similar size to that of the Purbeck Isle, discovered on the sea bed by a survey ship with sonar equipment.

"We were offered the assistance of the Odyssey Explorer, which is a survey vessel which normally surveys the sea bed as part of its commercial work," he said.

"They were able to use their side scan sonar which discovered on the sea bed, at the depth of about 55 metres, the shape of something on the sea bed.

"It is very difficult to identify what that particular object is. We are concentrating on trying to identify this object to either discount it or count it in, as the case may be."

News of the discovery spread through the close-knit community but Andy Alcock, secretary of the Weymouth and Portland Fisherman and Licensed Boatman Association, said people still had hope of finding the men alive.

"Everybody is very quiet because it's still search and rescue, but then we're all hopeful that the life raft will be found with them in it and everything will be fine and they can go home to their families.

"But obviously the downside is the longer it goes on, the hope fades, so we'd rather something happened sooner rather than later.

"It's just very, very sad that it could turn out to be a fatal accident."

Mr Alcock, 59, said local fishermen tried phoning the men's mobile phones when they first heard the boat was missing.

"The lads had tried to phone the vessel and got just cut off lines, all three mobile phones just cut off, which is never a good sign," he said.

He said that as yesterday evening went on the search was scaled up by the coastguard into a full-blown search and rescue.

"As the evening panned out into darkness it got more and more serious. It then became an all-night vigil to try and find the vessel."

He said the three men were "popular lads", adding: "Weymouth is a small place and you can walk around this town on any given day and you can look at any boat and you'd know the names of everybody on that boat and these three lads were no different. They were very popular and they'd worked on other vessels in the harbour."

He said Mr Prowse and Mr McFarland, nicknamed Farley, had young families who have asked for privacy.