The US Coast Guard has suspended its search for the missing British crew members of the yacht the Cheeki Rafiki, a spokesman said today.
The search was called off at midnight (3am British time) at the site where the vessel was discovered yesterday, about 1,000 miles east of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
It came after rescuers discovered the yacht’s life raft still on board, secured in its storage space on the capsized vessel.
Underwater imagery taken by a swimmer from a US Navy warship showed the raft clearly stowed away, indicating it had not been deployed in an emergency.
A coastguard spokesman said: ” After a navy warship relocated the overturned sailing vessel on Friday, search planners confirmed the boat’s life raft was secured in its storage space in the aft portion of the boat, indicating the crew had not been able to use it for emergency purposes.”
Coastguard officials decided to call off the search for the men – experienced captain Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham, Surrey, and crew members James Male, 23, from Southampton, Steve Warren, 52, from Bridgwater, Somerset, and Paul Goslin, 56, from West Camel, Somerset – unless there was new information or sightings that suggested the crew would still be alive.
But “none of the developments indicate that to be the case”, a spokesman said.
Foreign Office Minister Hugh Robertson said: “I am sad to confirm that the search for the ‘Cheeki Rafiki’ has now been suspended. My sincere condolences go out to the families of James Male, Andrew Bridge, Steve Warren and Paul Goslin at this very difficult and distressing time.
“The UK government is grateful to the US Coastguard and the Canadian search and rescue services for their efforts to locate the men. Their dedication has been unwavering, and they have done everything they could during the course of the search.”
A Foreign Office statement on behalf of Mr Warren’s family said: “We are very sad that the US has now suspended the search for Stephen and his friends.
“From the beginning we, together with the other families involved, have continued to hold out hope that he would be found alive. The US Coast Guard have led an exceptional search.
“This is now an incredibly difficult time for all the family. We would therefore request that we are given privacy to come to terms with today’s decision.”
The coastguard said earlier it had found no sign of the British crew on board the flooded vessel.
The spokesman said: “The crew and swimmer deployed to investigate the overturned boat after a helicopter crew located it 1,000 miles off Massachusetts and within the US Coast Guard’s search area.
“The navy surface swimmer determined the boat’s cabin was flooded and windows were shattered, contributing to the complete flooding inside.”
The surface rescue swimmer also knocked on the hull and reached below the waterline, but with no results. Navy crews saw that the 40ft Cheeki Rafiki’s keel was broken off, causing a breach in the hull.
All four men were on board the 40ft yacht when it is thought to have got into trouble around 620 miles east of Cape Cod on May 15.
The US Coast Guard resumed its search for the missing men on Tuesday morning after previously suspending its search after scouring 4,000 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean, following a petition in the UK attracted 200,000 signatures and pressure from the UK government.
The hunt for the missing men was finally called off after military search teams from the US, Canada and the UK, as well as numerous commercial vessels and volunteer yacht crews combed an additional 21,000 square miles of sea.
A coastguard spokesman said: “Based on the extreme sea conditions at the time of distress, but assuming best-case emergency equipment, the estimated survival time past the time of distress was approximately 20 hours.
“Searches were suspended nearly 200 hours after the time of distress.”
Captain Anthony Popiel, 1st US Coast Guard District chief of response, said: “It is with sincere compassion for the families of these four men that our thoughts and prayers are with them all during this difficult time.
“The US Coast Guard is always hopeful, and makes the utmost efforts to find and rescue those in peril. We have the greatest appreciation for the US Navy and US Air Force for working with us alongside the militaries of Canada and the United Kingdom during this massive search effort.
“It is only after our deepest consideration that we suspend our active search efforts.”