Major search under way off Norfolk coast

Ian Clarke A major operation involving six RNLI lifeboats and two search and rescue helicopters is underway today in the North Sea to try to find a missing crewman who is believed to have fallen overboard from a ferry.

Ian Clarke

A major operation involving six RNLI lifeboats, two search and rescue helicopters and coastguard teams is underway today off the East Anglian coast to try to find a missing crewman who is believed to have fallen overboard from a ferry.

The alarm was raised just before 6am after the person was confirmed missing on board the ferry, The Pride of Rotterdam.

He was last seen at around midnight last night.

Crews from Wells, Gorleston, Caister, Cromer, Lowestoft, Skegness and Humber have joined in the search, which is being co-ordinated by Yarmouth coastguards.

Coastguard teams from Sheringham, Cromer and Mundesley are also involved.

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The vessel was on passage from Rotterdam to The Humber and the search is concentrating on a 60-mile area of sea from East of Cromer to The Humber.

Two helicopters from Wattisham and Leconfield have joined in after the may day was sounded.

Each lifeboat and helicopter will be given an area to search along the ferry's route and it is understood that information is being sought from the captain about when the man was last seen to enable them to focus the rescue effort.

The tide means that the person may have drifted in the sea.

The ferry, called the Pride of Rotterdam, is now thought to be in the sea somewhere near Spurn Point at the entrance to the river Humber, where it was headed from the continent.

Coastguards are urging ships around the Norfolk coast to look carefully for anyone in the water.

Richard Leeds, operations manager for Cromer lifeboat, said: “He was last seen at midnight last night, at about 5am they found out he had disappeared, or wasn't there. We got called about 5.55am. We launched at about 6.05am.”

“Yarmouth coastguard will give each lifeboat an area to check over. They are running search and rescue patterns, we do a search up and down, up and down, a couple of miles between each length. They will just keep going.

“We have got the capability for staying out there for 10 hours."

Mr Leeds added: “They will be conducting a rescue pattern. They will run along a track of about 10 miles long. They will keep a visual look out from the boat, move along to the next track, and keep a visual look out there. There is nothing else you can do. You can't use something electronic because bodies won't show up on that.

“The visibility is good but it's moderately rough, therefore if you have got someone in the water, even at the best of times, it's hard to find a head or a body in the water. Unless they have got luminous headgear, there is very little chance. It's like looking for a needle in a hay stack.”

Mr Leeds said now it was light it was actually made harder, because even if he has a life jacket on with a little light, they won't be able to see it any more.

Wells lifeboat spokesman John Mitchell said the sea was cooling down and it was vital for the person to be found as soon as possible.

“It will be very cold and will be difficult for someone to survive in those conditions.”