LONDON (Reuters) - A petition calling on the U.S. Coast Guard to resume a search for four British sailors missing in the Atlantic Ocean for four days has passed 120,000 signatures with a UK government minister backing the appeal.
Relatives of the missing men - captain Andrew Bridge, 21, Steve Warren, 52, Paul Goslin, 56 and James Male, 23 - have appealed to U.S. authorities to resume a search, saying it was too early to give up hope as the men, all experienced sailors, could have escaped from the boat on a life raft.
The men went missing last Friday after setting off from Antigua in the Caribbean to bring the yacht Cheeki Rafiki back to England but reported their vessel was taking on water and changed course to head to the Azores.
The U.S. Coast Guard mounted a search of the area about 1,000 miles off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, but called it off on Sunday due to poor weather conditions, saying it did not have the capability for a large-scale search.
A petition set up by the families had attracted about 123,000 signatures by Tuesday morning.
"One of the sailors is my dad and we cannot give up! He is my world and we need to start this search again!!!," wrote Claire Goslin.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who represents an area of southern England where the Bridge family live, joined the appeal for the search to be resumed.
"Desperate 4 families of missing yachtsmen, one from Farnham. I know US Coastguard has done masses but please don't stop looking. 2 soon 2 give up," Hunt tweeted.
Captain Anthony Popiel from the U.S. Coast Guard said it had been a difficult decision to suspend the search but the estimated survival time after a distress alert in extreme conditions at sea was about 20 hours and the crew had searched for 53 hours.
Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith Editing by Jeremy Gaunt