THE US navy has found the hull of the yacht Cheeki Rafiki which went missing in the North Atlantic a week ago with four British sailors on board, the Foreign Office said last night.
Officials said there was still no sign of the missing yachtsmen.
US navy divers who were part of the search mission confirmed the name of the vessel and reported the yacht’s windows were shattered and its cabin flooded.
Earlier, the families of the missing men said they were still hopeful they would be found despite the US coastguard (USCG) saying the search would be called off at 5am today UK time unless the men were found.
Captain Anthony Popiel of the USCG said he had phoned the men’s families to tell them the news, adding: “It is only after deepest consideration that we suspend active search efforts.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The US navy has informed us it has located the hull of the Cheeki Rafiki.
“We have informed the families and remain in close contact with them and with the USCG who continue to lead the search operation.”
The Foreign Office was unable to confirm any details about the fate of the crew members.
Experienced captain Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham in Surrey, and crew members James Male, 23, from Southampton, Steve Warren, 52, from Bridgwater, Somerset, and Paul Goslin, 56, from West Camel, also Somerset, were on board the yacht which is thought to have got into trouble around 620 miles east of Cape Cod last Thursday.
The USCG issued a statement saying a US navy helicopter crew located the yacht’s overturned hull 1,000 miles off Massachusetts yesterday.
It said: “The hull sighting has not impacted search planning as teams continue to look for a bright-coloured life raft as their search object.”
It continued: “The US coast guard made an announcement, Thursday, that search operations would be suspended at midnight Friday unless new information or sightings suggested the crew would still be alive. None of the current developments indicate that to be the case.”
Describing the families’ reaction to news that the US search was being called off, a spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “They were obviously saddened to hear that the US coast guard will be suspending the search. But they were prepared for the fact that this would have to happen.
“Having spent the week hearing the endless accounts of survivors, the families are reassured that their men would work as an efficient and cohesive team. This gives them additional hope that they will still be found, as the US Coast Guard have found no evidence to the contrary.”
Foreign office minister Hugh Robertson spoke to the families of the missing sailors last night to inform them of the USCG’s decision to suspend the search, saying it had gone “above and beyond” in its efforts to find them.
Mr Robertson said: “I know that, despite there being no further sightings of the crew, any decision to suspend the search will be incredibly difficult and will only be taken after the most serious deliberation.”
An initial search for the stricken vessel was called off on Sunday amid bad weather in the Atlantic Ocean, but began again on Tuesday after pressure from the men’s families.
More than 200,000 people signed a petition demanding the operation be resumed and the families of the sailors wrote to US President Barack Obama thanking him for his support.