UPDATE 2-U.S. Coast Guard ends search for missing British yacht sailors

Sat May 24, 2014 1:40am EDT

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(Recasting with renewed search called off by U.S. Coast Guard)

May 23 (Reuters) - A renewed search for four British sailors who vanished with their yacht a week ago in the Atlantic was called off late on Friday, hours after the overturned vessel was spotted at sea with no sign of its crew, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The missing men, all experienced sailors, ran into trouble last Friday, May 16, as they were returning to Britain from a sailing event in Antigua in the Caribbean.

They had reported that their vessel, the 39-foot (12 meter) Cheeki Rafiki, was taking on water, forcing them to change course for the Azores.

On Friday, a U.S. Navy search team discovered the capsized vessel about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, but detected no sign of the crew, the U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement.

A Navy swimmer found its cabin flooded and windows shattered. The swimmer knocked on the hull but heard no response, the statement said.

The Coast Guard later said that the vessel's life raft was found still stowed in its storage space aboard the yacht, confirming that the crew did not use it to escape.

U.S. authorities originally abandoned a search for the crew after two days due to treacherous conditions, but resumed the effort on Tuesday after a request from the British government and a petition signed by more than 200,000 people.

The Coast Guard said it had suspended the second search at 10 p.m. Eastern/0200 GMT after covering an additional 21,000 square miles (54,000 sq km) of ocean.

The fate of the four sailors - Andrew Bridge, 21, Steve Warren, 52, Paul Goslin, 56, and James Male, 23 - has dominated television and newspaper headlines in Britain, with their relatives appealing for more time to be devoted to the search.

Based on the extreme sea conditions the crew faced when they called for help but assuming best-case emergency equipment, "the estimated survival time past the time of distress was approximately 20 hours," the Coast Guard said.

Military and commercial planes and ships from the United States, Canada and Britain took part in the search.

"It is with sincere compassion for the families of these four men that our thoughts and prayers are with them," Coast Guard Captain Anthony Popiel said. "The U.S. Coast Guard is always hopeful, and makes the utmost efforts to find and rescue those in peril." (Reporting by Curtis Skinner in New York and Belinda Goldsmith in London; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Stephen Addison, Tom Brown and Ron Popeski)

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