Missing yacht: Jeremy Hunt joins calls for search to resume

(clockwise from top left) Andrew Bridge, James Male, Steve Warren, Paul Goslin Andrew Bridge, James Male, Steve Warren, Paul Goslin (clockwise from top left) are all experienced yachtsmen

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Cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt has joined calls for the US Coastguard to continue searching for four Britons who are missing after their boat apparently capsized in the Atlantic Ocean.

Health Secretary Mr Hunt, the MP for one of the men, tweeted that it was too soon to give up.

A petition urging authorities in the US to continue the search has amassed more than 130,000 signatures.

The US Coastguard called off its search early on Sunday morning.

Contact with the 40ft Cheeki Rafiki yacht was lost on Friday after it got into difficulties 620 miles (1,000km) east of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

'Could be alive'

Relatives say beacon signals sent by the crew indicate they managed to evacuate the yacht to a life raft, and experienced yachtsmen have said they could still be alive.

But a spokesman for the US Coastguard said the men could only have survived for around 20 hours after "time of distress".

Cheeki Rafiki The Cheeki Rafiki yacht was taking part in Antigua Sailing Week

The four crew members are Paul Goslin, 56, from West Camel, Somerset; Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham, Surrey; Steve Warren, 52, also from Somerset, and 23-year-old James Male, from Southampton.

The men were sailing back from a regatta in Antigua when the boat began taking on water and diverted to the Azores.

'Don't stop looking'

The family of Mr Bridge, the captain of the Cheeki Rafiki, are constituents of Mr Hunt, the MP for South West Surrey.

Mr Hunt tweeted: "Desperate 4 families of missing yachtsmen, one from Farnham. I know US Coastguard has done masses but pls don't stop looking. 2 soon 2 give up."

Picture taken by Maersk Kure crew of an upturned hull The crew of the 1,000ft Maersk Kure took this picture of what appeared to be an overturned yacht

The families themselves have praised the US Coastguard, but urged it to do more.

Mr Goslin's daughter, Claire, thanked the service for its "fantastic" work so far.

"But I know what Dad's like," she added. "He will be doing anything in his power to make sure he and his fellow three crew mates are safe.

"Don't give up; they need your help."

Mr Goslin's wife, Cressida, said the search should be resumed for a couple of days, adding: "We just feel that they're not being given a chance.

"If we don't try to rescue them we're just going to leave them to starve to death."

Claire Goslin pleaded to coastguards: "Don't give up, they need your help"

Mr Male's father, Graham, told ITV Meridian: "They waited until the first beacon had run out before they actually set the second beacon - that's rational-thinking people."

And Mr Bridge's mother, Mary, said: "I'm a bit numb, actually. We wanted him back.

Mary Bridge, mother of skipper Andrew: "I'm a bit numb, actually"

"We know they've worked hard for two days but my husband and I and my other son and the other families all wish them to resume the search for these four men."

Kay Coombes, sister of Steve Warren, said: "They are four strong-minded, physically strong sailors, they knew they were in difficulties and had every opportunity to get into the life raft which would have had provisions for several days.

"But if no-one is looking for them, they won't be found."

Kay Coombes, sister of sailor Steve Warren: "If no-one's looking... they can't be found"

Possible sighting
4-person life raft

A typical 12-person life raft, similar to that believed to have been on board Cheeki Rafiki, would have been equipped to the international standard ISO 9650, says Alistair Hackett from suppliers Ocean Safety.

That standard specifies everything from the type of fabric and glue used to make the raft to the emergency contents it must have on board.

The raft and its emergency pack would have included one litre of water per person, Mr Hackett says, as well as flares, thermal protective aids, paddles, pumps and a 30m line to tow a drogue to steady the craft.

The US Coastguard said locator beacons activated by the crew indicated they were in a position 1,000 miles east of Massachusetts on Friday morning.

The yacht was facing 15ft waves, 50mph winds and sea and air temperatures of 15C (60F), the US Coastguard added.

On Saturday, a cargo vessel which was helping with the search spotted and photographed an overturned hull which matched the description of the Cheeki Rafiki.

But when he called off the hunt on Sunday, Capt Anthony Popiel said: "Based on the extreme conditions at sea, but assuming best-case emergency equipment, the estimated survival time past the time of distress was approximately 20 hours. Crews searched for 53 hours."

And a further spokesman for the service said on Monday that unless there were "new developments about the case" the search would not be resumed.

Map showing search area for yacht The search took place over more than 4,100 square miles in the mid-Atlantic

A number of well-known figures have added their voice to calls for more to be done.

Sir Richard Branson said: "People have been at sea for a long period of time in life rafts before and have turned up alright".

Yachtsman Tony Bullimore, who survived five days at after his boat capsized in the Southern Ocean in 1997, said there was "every opportunity that they could still be out there.

Television presenter Ben Fogle, who rowed across the Atlantic, said: "We've heard too many stories over the years of shipwrecked sailors found in tiny rafts."

Alistair Hackett explains how people survive inside a life raft

The 12-person life raft they are believed to have had on board would typically be 1.66m high and 3.3m across.

Alistair Hackett, from suppliers Ocean Safety, said it would have probably have had one litre of water per person on board, as well as survival equipment such as flares and thermal protective suits.

'Highly unlikely'

However, oceanographer Simon Boxall from the University of Southampton said: "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."

The Royal Yachting Association said typical supplies on a life raft would include survival suits, water, food, flares and a first aid kit.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said: "We are in continual contact with the US Coastguard and are providing consular assistance to the families."

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