Missing yacht: Search called off for British sailors after US Navy finds Cheeki Rafiki's life raft was not used

The US Coast Guard has stopped its search for the four missing sailors

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The Independent Online

The US Coast Guard has called off its search for the four British sailors missing after the wreck of the yacht Cheeki Rafiki, after finding that its life raft was not deployed.

Underwater imagery taken by a swimmer from a US Navy warship showed the raft clearly stowed in place on board the capsized vessel.

The wreckage had originally been spotted during searches last Saturday, a day after the yacht disappeared.

In a statement, the US Coast Guard said after diverting a vessel to check the wreckage: “US Navy warship helicopter crew located the overturned hull of the Cheeki Rafiki 1,000 miles offshore of Massachusetts.

“The surface swimmer confirmed the name on the ship was Cheeki Rafiki and went in the water to investigate further. The swimmer determined the boat's cabin was flooded and windows were shattered, contributing to the complete flooding inside.

From left to right: Paul Gosling, James Male, Steve Warren and Andrew Bridge who are missing after the yacht ‘Cheeki Rafiki’ capsized in the mid-Atlantic Ocean

“The swimmer also knocked on the hull and reached an arm's length below the waterline with no results. Surface swimmers are not trained divers and do not perform sub-surface operations. Navy crews observed that the sailing vessel's keel was broken off, causing a breach in the hull.”

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "The UK C130 was due to search for one more day for the life raft of the Cheeki Rafiki.

"In light of the US Coast Guard's decision to suspend their search for the crew following photographic confirmation that the life raft is in the hull of the boat, the C130 will now return to the UK."

Foreign Office Minister Hugh Robertson said: "I am sad to confirm that the search for the Cheeki Rafiki has now been suspended. My sincere condolences go out to the families of James Male, Andrew Bridge, Steve Warren and Paul Goslin at this very difficult and distressing time.

"The UK Government is grateful to the US Coast Guard and the Canadian search and rescue services for their efforts to locate the men. Their dedication has been unwavering, and they have done everything they could during the course of the search."

A Foreign Office statement on behalf of Mr Warren's family said: "We are very sad that the US has now suspended the search for Stephen and his friends.

"From the beginning we, together with the other families involved, have continued to hold out hope that he would be found alive. The US Coast Guard have led an exceptional search.

"This is now an incredibly difficult time for all the family. We would therefore request that we are given privacy to come to terms with today's decision."

The wreckage was found during the last hours of the US Coast Guard's search for the four British sailors who were on the Cheeki Rafiki when it started taking on water in storm-torn seas.

Contact with Andrew Bridge, Paul Goslin, Steve Warren and James Male was lost soon after they reported the yacht was taking on water and that they were diverting to the Azores.

The last known contact was signals from two of their distress locater beacons on Friday morning about 1,000 miles from Massachusetts. It had been hoped they had been able to board the vessel's life raft.

Families of the sailors had refused to give up hope of finding them alive and when the US Coast Guard called off the search earlier this week they successfully pleaded for the hunt to be resumed.

Additional reporting by PA