The British press is reporting that the crew of a pleasure boat taking part in the Atlantic Ocean search for the missing sailboat Cheeki Rafiki has found what could be debris from the boat.
The captain of a catamaran that is assisting the search said details had been passed to the Coast Guard, but he did not know whether the debris was part of the U.K. boat, according to a report by BBC News.
Britain’s Daily Mirror reported that Patrick Michel, skipper of the Malisi, said he spotted the debris in the northern part of the search area in the Atlantic Ocean.
"The debris was a plank of wood and a small piece of floating foam, but there was nothing identifying the Cheeki Rafiki. Obviously it is a possibility, and we are definitely treating it very seriously and incorporating that into our search, but I can't say for certain that it was from the Cheeki Rafiki," a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard told the publication.
The 40-foot Cheeki Rafiki was sailing back to Southampton, England, last week after racing in Antigua Sailing Week when it went missing early Friday. Two 406 MHz personal locator beacons registered to the Beneteau First 40.7 were activated and the boat’s agent in the U.K. told the Coast Guard that the last message it received from the four-man crew on Friday said the boat was taking on water.
For the next two-plus days, Coast Guard air crews from North Carolina, Georgia and Canada, as well as commercial vessels, searched more than 4,000 square miles, according to the Coast Guard.
About noon on Saturday the crew of the 1,000-foot container ship Maersk Kure found an overturned hull that matched the description of Cheeki Rafiki, but saw no sign of the sailors. In a photo taken by a crewmember, the hull appears to be missing its keel.
The sailboat apparently capsized more than 600 miles east of Cape Cod, Mass., in 15-foot seas and winds topping 50 knots. Air temperature in the vicinity at the time of the disappearance was 59 degrees and the water was 60 degrees, according to the Coast Guard.
On Sunday morning the Coast Guard said it was suspending its search, noting that the time frame was 20 hours past a survivability model that takes into account weather conditions, emergency equipment and the anticipated condition of the missing people.
Amid a public uproar in Britain, and at the request of the British government, the Coast Guard resumed its search efforts Tuesday morning.
“Once we were able to get assets to the search area, we completed eight searches yesterday and overnight. Search conditions were excellent, with winds less than 10 knots and seas three to five feet,” Capt. Anthony Popiel, chief of response for the 1st Coast Guard District, said in a statement Wednesday night. “Four searches were flown by C-130 aircraft from the United States and Canada and four searches were completed by commercial merchant vessels who volunteered to assist.”
Efforts since the search resumed have covered more than 9,000 square miles of ocean, he said.
“No decisions have been made regarding suspension of the search. Our focus is on continued search planning, and I can confirm now that we are making plans to have search assets on scene tomorrow,” he said.