Coastguard and RNLI lifeboats braved gale-force conditions yesterday in a determined effort to save five sailors after their ship sank. The body of one fellow crew member was recovered while two others were rescued. Last night, after 14 hours of searching in "horrendous" conditions, the rescue operation was called off with the light failing.
The ship's two life rafts were spotted from the air, washed up on a remote island and a coastal peninsula. There were no signs of life although attempts to reach them proved too dangerous.
Prince William co-piloted an RAF Sea King helicopter which rescued two of the Russian crew in the early hours of yesterday morning after the 81m (265ft) cargo ship Swanland sank some 10 miles west of the Llyn peninsula in north Wales.
Holyhead Coastguard watch manager Ray Carson said: "The two men recovered from the water were brought here before going to the hospital. I think they are OK and are just suffering from shock. In broken English and through drawing a diagram, the second officer told us the ship was hit by an enormous wave. It rolled the ship and it broke its back. He said this led to a catastrophic failure of the vessel."
The cargo ship, carrying 3000 tonnes of limestone from Colwyn Bay to Cowes on the Isle of Wight, was hit by a force eight gale in the Irish Sea in the early hours of Sunday. Five of the men were on deck and three below when the wave hit, and it quickly sank.
An RNLI spokeswoman said: "Porthdinllaen all-weather lifeboat was launched in gale force winds and rough seas at 2.30am to a cargo vessel in distress with a damaged hull. Phwllheli all-weather lifeboat was also launched. A short while later the cargo ship sank. A helicopter from RAF Valley rescued two of its crew."
Last night the Ministry of Defence confirmed that the Duke of Cambridge was among a team piloting two Sea King helicopters dispatched from RAF Valley in Anglesey after the mayday call.
Yesterday four RNLI lifeboats, two search and rescue helicopters from RAF Chivenor and the Dublin Coastguard, as well as a fixed-wing aircraft, three coastguard teams and an Irish naval vessel all continued to comb a 300 square mile area in stormy conditions. Two nearby cargo ships also offered their help.
By late yesterday fears were mounting that the five men could not have survived the conditions, although some are believed to be wearing specialist immersion suits equipped with strobe lights.
A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: "We have found both the life rafts – one at Bardsey Island and one at Braich Y Pwll. An inshore life boat did try to get to one but the conditions are still pretty horrendous and they can't be thoroughly searched. We have not seen any signs of life."
In August last year the Cook Islands-registered Swanland was cautioned after it came close to going aground on rocks at Lizard Point in Cornwall. The ship, with a crew of nine, had suffered engine failure in high winds as it carried a cargo of stone in the early hours of 20 August. With a lifeboat at the scene, Falmouth Coastguard's emergency towing vessel Anglian Princess successfully brought the ship to safety without any casualties.