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Weymouth missing fisherman search called off


A search for two missing fishermen was called off today as rescue teams found their stricken vessel and its liferaft on the sea bed.

Survey ship Odyssey Explorer discovered the wreck of the Purbeck Isle lying 10 miles off Portland, in Dorset, at a depth of 50 metres.

The body of skipper David McFarlane, 35, was found yesterday.

Two more crewman - named locally as Robert Prowse, 23, and Jack Craig, 22 - have not been seen or heard from since leaving Weymouth on their 36ft "potter" boat on Thursday morning.

The Purbeck Isle was reported missing shortly after 5.30pm on Thursday.

Mr McFarlane, from Weymouth, was found dead at sea yesterday.

Desperate efforts to find his two companions continued amid hopes Mr Prowse and Mr Craig could have taken to the liferaft of the boat when they ran into difficulty.

But these were dashed when the raft was discovered on board the wreck at 11am today.

Portland Coastguard's Rescue Co-ordination Centre manager Mark Rodaway said: "After a prolonged and extensive three-day search, sadly, the time has now passed when we could have hoped that the two remaining crew members from the Purbeck Isle would be found alive.

"Our final area of investigation was to search for the missing liferaft in the hope that they had been able to board it before the vessel sank, but sadly this new information means that this search will now be terminated.

"Our thoughts are with the families of all three crewmen at this difficult time."

Andy Alcock, 59, secretary of the Weymouth and Portland Fisherman and Licensed Boatman Association, described the three men as "popular lads".

"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," he said.

"They were very popular and they'd worked on other vessels in the harbour."

Mr Alcock said local fishermen tried calling 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.

"As the evening panned out into darkness it got more and more serious," he added.

"It then became an all-night vigil to try and find the vessel."

Search and rescue teams who continued their hunt this morning hoped the men may have been safe on the liferaft but simply unable to call for help.

But they discovered this was not the case by using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) on the Odyssey Explorer which was sent down to the wreck.

Its foray on the seabed revealed the liferaft was still on board the wrecked crabber.

Mr Prowse and Mr McFarlane, nicknamed Farley, were both said to have young families who have asked for privacy.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said it received no communication from the crew before the boat disappeared.

The Purbeck Isle was rescued last January after taking on water off Chesil Beach, west of Portland.

Fred Caygill, a spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said: "It had a problem where it was taking on water. They called for assistance, the lifeboat was launched, a helicopter was scrambled and they were evacuated off the boat and the vessel was taken under tow back here to Weymouth.

"That vessel has undergone a major re-fit and has worked quite steadily since.

"Obviously, we are very keen to get to the bottom of what has happened here."