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Hopes fade for missing fishermen

The Purbeck Isle in Weymouth before it went missing Photo:

The wreck of a fishing trawler missing since Thursday has been found.

Dorset Police confirmed the trawler has been found ten miles off the coast of Portland in waters 15 meters deep.

Hopes are now fading for two missing fishermen after a body believed to be that of their third crew member was recovered by coastguard search teams.

The men, named locally as 37-year-old skipper David MacFarland, crewman Robert Prowse, 23, and Jack Craig, 22, had not been seen or heard from since leaving Weymouth on their 36ft "potter" the Purbeck Isle.

Searches have been under way off the Dorset coast since the men were reported missing at around 6pm on Thursday, with Navy warships, a coastguards helicopter and lifeboats all involved in the operation.

Teams focused their attention on a 10-mile area off the coast of Portland Bill yesterday before discovering a body at around 5.30pm yesterday.

An object of a similar size to that of the Purbeck Isle was also discovered on the sea bed by a survey ship with sonar equipment.

Dorset Police confirmed the body was recovered by coastguards, before the families of the missing crew members were informed of the development.

Formal identification has yet to take place but the body is believed to be one of the missing fishermen from the Purbeck Isle, a force spokesman said.

Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokesman Fred Caygill said last night that teams were hoping to send down specialist equipment to look at the object found on the sea bed.

"We were offered the assistance of the Odyssey Explorer, which is a survey vessel which normally surveys the sea bed as part of its commercial work," he said.

"They were able to use their side scan sonar, which discovered on the sea bed, at the depth of about 55 metres, the shape of something on the sea bed.

"It is very difficult to identify what that particular object is. We are concentrating on trying to identify this object to either discount it or count it in, as the case may be."

Portland coastguard remained at the scene last night and was still waiting for the right conditions to inspect the object.

The coastguard helicopter helping with the search was stood down due to low visibility, but lifeboat crews are expected to recommence the hunt at first light today.

Andy Alcock, 59, secretary of the Weymouth and Portland Fisherman and Licensed Boatman Association, said local fishermen had tried phoning the men's mobile phones when they first heard the boat was missing.

"The lads had tried to phone the vessel and got just cut off lines, all three mobile phones just cut off, which is never a good sign," he said.

He told how the search had been scaled up by the coastguard into a full-blown search and rescue as Thursday evening progressed.

"As the evening panned out into darkness it got more and more serious," he said. "It then became an all-night vigil to try and find the vessel."

The three men were "popular lads", he said, adding: "Weymouth is a small place and you can walk around this town on any given day and you can look at any boat and you'd know the names of everybody on that boat and these three lads were no different.

"They were very popular and they'd worked on other vessels in the harbour."

Mr Prowse and Mr MacFarland, nicknamed Farley, had young families who have asked for privacy, he added.

Mr Caygill confirmed the Purbeck Isle was rescued last year after taking on water off Chesil Beach, west of Portland.

"The vessel was subject to a breakdown back in January 2011," he said. "It had a problem where it was taking on water.

"They called for assistance, the lifeboat was launched, a helicopter was scrambled and they were evacuated off the boat and the vessel was taken under tow back here to Weymouth.

"That vessel has undergone a major re-fit and has worked quite steadily since.

"Obviously we are very keen to get to the bottom of what has happened here."

More on this story

  • Fishermen search called off

    Coastguards have called off a search for two missing fishermen after the wreck of the boat and its life raft were discovered on the sea bed