#FindOurSailors: This is not the same as Flight MH370 or the missing Nigerian schoolgirls

At some point a publicly funded search has to stop. That time is now

Share

It’s now nearly a week since anything was heard from four British sailors on board their yacht in the Atlantic. Paul Goslin, Andrew Bridge, Steve Warren, and James Male were last in communication with the outside world when the 40-foot Cheeki Rafiki was 620 miles off the Massachussets coast, facing 15-foot waves and 50 miles per hour wind. The sailors were making their way back to the UK having competed in a regatta in the West Indies.

A major search has been in operation, and now some debris has been found which may or may not be connected to the disappearance. A tragedy has unfolded and as long as there is hope that the men may still be alive, floating on a life raft in the vast ocean, their families will want the authorities to keep looking.

But at some point – harsh as this may sound - a publicly funded search has to stop. The US Coast Guard estimated that from the time when their distress signal went up, the men would only be able to survive for around 20 hours. The Americans searched over 4,000 square miles for 53 hours - twice as long as their standard procedure and with three aircrafts - but found no sight of the yacht, or the men. They stopped looking.

Then with distasteful echoes of two other recent search operations – for Flight MH370 and the missing schoolgirls in Nigeria – the families of the crew launched a hashtag, #FindOurSailors, and started an online petition. The UK government, Ben Fogle and Richard Branson waded in, and two days after the US Coast Guard stopped their search, they restarted it - 96 long hours after the boat was last heard from. Now there are four military planes, five merchant ships and numerous yachts involved.

It’s true that there are tales of exceptional survival on life rafts. In 1972 the Robertson family were found after 38 days, and the record is held by Poon Lim, who spent 133 days adrift in 1942. But stories like these are the rare exceptions, and they all took place near the equator, where the water is far warmer than the area in which the Cheeki Rafiki has been lost. And this is presuming that they even made it onto the raft, which hasn’t yet been sighted. No one is likely to survive more than six hours if they are in 15C water.

There comes a point when the chance of a positive outcome becomes so infinitesimal that it is no longer justifiable to carry on.  It’s a hideous decision, which is precisely why it needs to be taken by someone in an objective position, and not by the family. 

The experts in the case of the Cheeki Rafiki concur: it’s time to stop. Keith Oliver, head of Maritime Operations with HM Coastguard, said "We believe that the US Coast Guard has done all they can to locate the stricken yacht and her crew.”  University of Southampton oceanographer Simon Boxall agrees "It is highly unlikely, beyond reasonable doubt, that they would have missed a life raft; they are bright red or bright orange. And if the people were in a life raft and were aware there were rescue aircraft, they would have had distress flares and beacons on board and they would have deployed them." Admiral Richard G Gurnon believes the search never should have been restarted: “The weather is nasty, rarely is it calm and flat” he says. “It’s extremely difficult”.

The US Coast Guard have now said that they will continue to search as if they are "looking for a member of our own family”. But the point is, they’re not.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas