24/05/2014 04:43 BST | Updated 24/05/2014 04:59 BST

Cheeki Rafiki: Search For Missing Britons Called Off As Life Raft Is Found On Damaged Yacht

Royal Yachting Association/PA Archive
Undated handout file photo issued by the Royal Yachting Association of the Cheeki Rafiki yacht as the crew, captain Andrew Bridge, 22, James Male, 23, Steve Warren, 52, and Paul Goslin, remain missing after the yacht capsized in the mid-Atlantic Ocean, as Caroline Nokes, the Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North, has called for the American authorities to relaunch the search and rescue mission to find them.

Hopes of finding the missing British crew of the Cheeki Rafiki have all but faded after the yacht's life raft was found on board the capsized vessel.

The US Coast Guard called off its search at midnight (3am British time), and an RAF Hercules plane due to hunt for the four sailors will not go out today.

Underwater imagery taken by a swimmer from a US Navy warship showed the raft clearly stowed in place, indicating it had not been deployed in an emergency.

The upturned yacht was discovered in the Atlantic Ocean yesterday, about 1,000 miles (1,609km) east of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

Its cabin was completely flooded and windows were shattered, and there was no sign of survivors.

The Cheeki Rafiki yacht

Coast guard 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 which suggested they would still be alive.

But "none of the developments indicate that to be the case", a spokesman said.

A coast guard 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."

He added: "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 Cheeki Rafiki's keel was broken off, causing a breach in the hull.

Official British efforts to find the missing men have now also been cancelled.

Paul Gosling, James Male, Steve Warren and Andrew Bridge

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "The UK C130 was due to search for one more day for the life raft of the Cheeki Rafiki.

"In light of the US Coast Guard's decision to suspend their search for the crew following photographic confirmation that the life raft is in the hull of the boat, the C130 will now return to the UK."

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.

Jeremy Wyatt, spokesman for the World Cruising Club based on the Isle of Wight, told BBC Breakfast: "I think we have to be realistic and face facts that they're not in a raft and therefore the chances of finding anyone are non-existent now.

"In some ways it's a hard fact, but I think, after a week of searching, it's really the only conclusion you can safely draw.

"At least by finding the hull that has given answers to the question so in some ways it's providing some form of closure for the families. They can build up a narrative in their own mind of what's happened."

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."

All four men were on board the 40ft (12m) yacht when it is thought to have got into trouble around 620 miles (998km) east of Cape Cod on May 15 as it was sailing back to the UK from a regatta in Antigua.