The search has resumed for five Russian seamen missing off the coast of north Wales after their cargo ship sank in stormy waters.
Two men were airlifted to safety by an RAF helicopter co-piloted by Prince William after their vessel, the Swanland, went down in the Irish Sea about 10 miles west of the Lleyn peninsula. The ship was hit by an “enormous wave” in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Another person was later recovered from the sea and pronounced dead.
The Duke of Cambridge was called into action after the Swanland issued a mayday call at around 2am on Sunday after its hull cracked.
The two surviving members of the eight Russian crew of the Cook Islands-registered vessel were pulled from the water clinging to liferafts soon after the alarm was raised. Both men were taken to hospital at nearby Bangor as a precaution and were later discharged.
The Russian ambassador to London sent Prince William a letter of thanks for taking “an active part in the rescue”.
“The two seamen were saved thanks to your selfless effort under the bad weather conditions,” Alexander Yakovenko wrote. “Let me express to you and your colleagues my deepest gratitude for saving the lives of the Russian citizens.”
The Russian press also hailed the rescue, a rare show of goodwill against the backdrop of poor UK-Russia relations. “Sailors from Nizhny Novgorod were saved by Prince William,” read the headline in the mass-market Komsomolskaya Pravda, referring to the Russian city from which the sailors hail.
The newspaper interviewed one of the rescued sailors’ brothers, who said that because the prince was involved in the rescue he had been able to get news of the events. When another relative went missing last year, he said the family sat and waited for information that never arrived. “There was no Prince William and no one talked about the accident in the news. Now it’s very convenient – we can find out about Roma in the news,” Alexei Savin told the paper.
The search was called off at 4.45pm on Sunday because of fading light, and was resumed at about 8.15am.
Ray Carson, the watch manager at Holyhead coastguard, said the search area had been calculated at about 100 square miles. Two helicopters, one from the RAF and another from North Wales police, were leading the operation, supported by 11 coastguard teams.
The RAF aircraft was searching offshore areas, he added, while the police helicopter was focusing on the coastline.
Carson said: “We have calculated a search area based on the surface targets we retrieved yesterday, and using their found positions we can predict the rate of drift for an object in the water. That has refined the search to about 100 square miles.”
He described the weather conditions as “not particularly kind” but said the searchers were refusing to give up hope despite the length of time the men had been missing.
“There is always the odd chance,” he said. “You may get the odd person who will buck the trend.”
Gale-force winds that battered the Irish Sea during the early hours of Sunday may have caused the incident, coastguards believe.
The ship, managed by Grimsby-based Torbulk Ltd, had been transporting a cargo of limestone from Llanddulas, near Abergele, to Cowes, on the Isle of Wight.
Last August, the Swanland came close to going aground on rocks at Lizard Point, Cornwall. The nine-man ship suffered engine failure in high winds as it carried a cargo of stone in the early hours of 20 August.
Torbulk Ltd’s managing director, Andy Williamson, said: “Our thoughts are with the families of the missing crew and the deceased crew member.
“Swanland was a … properly maintained seagoing ship. She was fully and properly crewed with experienced seamen. The ship was fully certificated and classed as well as being fully and properly insured at the time of her loss.
“The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch has commenced an inquiry into the sinking of the Swanland.
“Torbulk is providing all assistance and will work closely with the MAIB as willing participants, keen to assist in determining the facts behind this tragic incident.”