A SEARCH for four Britons feared dead after the yacht they were sailing capsized in the mid-Atlantic Ocean has been called off.

The crew of the Cheeki Rafiki, a 40ft Beneteau performance racer/cruiser yacht, ran into difficulties some 620 miles east of Cape Cod in Massachusetts on Thursday while returning from the Antigua Sailing Week regatta.

Contact with Andrew Bridge, 21, James Male, 23, Steve Warren, 52, and Paul Goslin, 56, was lost in the early hours of Friday while they were diverting to the Azores.

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US and Canadian aircraft and merchant vessels looked for them throughout Friday and Saturday but have now called off the search.

The men were sailing the Cheeki Rafiki back from Antigua for Southampton-based yacht training and charter company Stormforce Coaching when they went missing. A US Coastguard spokesman said that two US and one Canadian aircraft had been assisted by three commercial vessels until the search was called off.

The spokesman said: "We searched with multiple assets over 4,000 square miles for pings from the vessel's personal locator beacons. After receiving no more transmissions we believe that we would have found them by now if we were going to find them."

One of the commercial vessels taking part in the search, the 1,000ft container Maersk Kure ship, discovered debris thought to be the overturned hull of the Cheeki Rafiki but did not stop to inspect it because nobody was seen on board.

Weather conditions in the area where the men went missing were described as treacherous, with winds in excess of 50 knots, waves of 15 to 20 feet and visibility reduced to under a mile.

Mr Bridge, who is from Farnham in Surrey, was being paid by Stormforce for his role on the yacht, a spokeswoman for the firm said.

But Mr Goslin, from West Camel, Somerset, Mr Warren, from Bridgwater, also in Somerset, and Mr Male, from Southampton, were also described as "very experienced offshore yachtsmen".

Stormforce director Doug Innes said that the yacht had first started taking on water on Thursday but the skipper was in contact and the crew were keeping the situation stable. "Our thoughts are with the four yachtsmen and their families and we hope and pray for them all."