Missing yacht: US Coast Guard to suspend search for Cheeki Rafiki and four missing crew members

British Foreign Office calls decision to stop search efforts 'incredibly difficult'

The search for the British yacht that went missing off the east coast of America last week is to be called off tomorrow, according to US Coast Guard officials.

A week after the Cheeki Rafiki went missing, Anthony Popiel, chief of response at the US Coast Guard, informed the families of the four missing sailors that search efforts would have to be suspended by midnight (5am GMT) if no progress had been made.

He said: "I informed the family that the search would continue throughout the night and into tomorrow. If by midnight tomorrow there are no further developments to indicate search efforts would locate the crew alive we will suspend the search."

The British Foreign Office has been contacted by the US Coast Guard and has called their decision to stop searching “incredibly difficult".

Foreign Office Minister Hugh Robertson said: "I know that, despite there being no further sightings of the Cheeki Raffiki or its crew, any decision to suspend the search will be incredibly difficult and will only be taken after the most serious deliberation."

The Cheeki Rafiki and its crew - 22-year-old captain Andrew Bridge and crew members James Male, 23, Steve Warren, 52, and Paul Goslin, 56 - were travelling back from a regatta in Antigua on 16 May, before running into difficulty 620 miles off Cape Cod, Massachusettes.

A call was sent by the Southampton-based crew telling Stormforce, their managing agent in England, that they had begun taking on water and would be diverting to the Azores instead of carrying on with their intended route back to Britain.

By Friday morning, Stormforce had lost contact with the boat and the US Coast Guard was alerted.

yacht-rafiki.jpg If search efforts are brought to an end, it will mark the second time the US Coast Guard has suspended its search for the boat, after initially ceasing search efforts on Sunday, after a 53-hour search provided no clues as to the whereabouts of the boat and its crew.

Following this decision, the US Coast Guard was asked by the British government to resume searching after a petition set up by the relatives of the four sailors secured over 100,00 signatures – the number is now just under 250,000.

Since Tuesday, there have been coordinated efforts by US Coast Guard and British authorities to try and find the missing crew.

According to the US Coast Guard, more than 17,000 miles of ocean had been covered with US Coastguard cutter ships, US planes as well as commercial ships helping with the search.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Defence sent one of their C-130 Hercules planes to assist with the search, but only debris belonging to another unrelated boat was found.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the British version of the US Coast Guard, supported the “extremely difficult decision” to suspend their search.

An MCA spokesman said: "We understand and support the extremely difficult operational decisions that the US Coast Guard is taking and the rigour with which they do so.

"Our focus is on the search... and our thoughts are with the families of the missing men at this time."