Fears for Cambridge students as yacht search is stepped up

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The Independent Online

An air and sea search was under way yesterday for a yacht with four crew, including three Cambridge students, which has been missing since Friday.

An air and sea search was under way yesterday for a yacht with four crew, including three Cambridge students, which has been missing since Friday.

Four lifeboats, a coastguard plane and an RAF helicopter were scouring 1,600 square nautical miles off the Norfolk coast for the 28ft vessel, which was sailing from Holland to the river Orwell in Harwich.

An initial search on Friday was called off after a report that the yacht, the Tulia, had taken 50 litres of fuel on board from a passing ship 40 miles off the coast of Great Yarmouth.

The Thames Coastguard, which is co-ordinating the search, believed the crew, all in their 20s, were making a safe but slow passage. But the search was stepped up yesterday after the yacht, skippered by Adam Clackson, an experienced sailor in his 50s, had still not reached its destination and did not respond to radio broadcasts. A Coastguard fixed-wing aircraft, based at Lydd, Kent, and an RAF rescue helicopter from Wattisham, Suffolk, were scrambled.

Frank Hart, a watch manager at Thames Coastguard, said: "The track and area of the search now includes some 1,600 square nautical miles with the far edge some 40 miles out from the shore. So far, nothing has been found. The weather is calm but misty and hazy, which is somewhat hampering our efforts. We are hoping that the vessel may simply have run out of fuel, which might mean they have no other means of communication."

The students - Chris McMenemy, James Chew and Carol Smith - are members of the university's cruising club who were trying to notch up sea hours.

Ms Smith is believed to have a coastal skipper's licence, which is granted by the Royal Yachting Association to sailors with more than 30 days, 800 miles and 12 hours of nightsailing experience.

A Coastguard spokesman said it was unclear whether the friends had embarked on the return journey from a Dutch port.

"These four people were on board when it left Britain and we have to assume they remained on board," he said.

"We have only had contact with James Chew's parents and Mrs Clackson and we have not heard from relatives of the other two. The vessel that gave them their fuel is on its way to Brazil and we have been unable to contact it."

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