Hunt after man falls overboard from QE2

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The Independent Online

A chef on the QE2 who vanished from his cabin in the middle of the night was yesterday feared drowned after an air and sea search off the Irish coast failed to find him.

A rescue operation was launched after the 27-year-old Indian national was reported missing at midday as the luxury liner approached Britain at the end of a six-day cruise from New York to Southampton.

The missing man, a breakfast chef on the liner, was last seen by his roommate at around 1.30am but failed to turn up for his shift at 4am.

The man, who is described as "quiet and a non-drinker", had been in a good mood as he socialised with colleagues until 10.30pm the previous night, said a spokesman for Cunard, owners of the ship.

Although he disappeared in the early hours, there was a delay in reporting the incident to the local coastguard as the captain first ordered a painstaking search of the 1,000ft ship, with its 12 decks and warren-like structure, for the missing man.

A senior ship's officer alerted the Falmouth Coastguard via telex of a possible man overboard as the liner was travelling 200 miles west of the Isles of Scilly.

A Cunard spokesman said because the man's chances of survival were "very poor" the ship, carrying 1,000 crew and 1,500 passengers, continued on its way to Southampton after the Falmouth coastguard had been contacted.

Three aircraft from RAF Kinloss and a Dublin-based fisheries patrol plane from the Irish Air Corps joined in the search and coastguards issued an alert to commercial and leisure craft in the area.

An RAF Nimrod from Kinloss was in the area and joined another aircraft tracking the ship's route over previous hours to see if they could spot the man in the water.

According to the coastguard the man could be expected to survive for up to six hours in 16C waters, but early optimism evaporated as sea conditions worsened during the day with reports of force six winds and a heavy sea swell.

The task was made more difficult because the man could have gone overboard at any point of a 200-mile stretch of the Atlantic before he was reported missing.

Peter Bullard, watch manager at Falmouth coastguard, said: "During the early hours of this morning the vessel covered nearly 200 miles which is a huge area to search.

"When you are looking for a person in the water in those weather conditions, even sighting someone in Falmouth bay would be difficult. Out in the middle of the Atlantic it is a very long hope unfortunately."

The Cunard spokesman said the missing man had last been seen asleep in his bunk.

He added: "His non-appearance at work was reported at 8am and a thorough search of the ship was made."

The Cunard spokesman added that the ship, which is due to dock in Southampton at 7am today, was searched a second time last night.

The missing man, who is single, will not be named until all searches are called off and his relatives have been informed.