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PUBLISHED: 07:45 02 December 2008 | UPDATED: 12:17 07 May 2010

Lifeboats are searching the coast of Norfolk for a missing ferry crewman

Lifeboats are searching the coast of Norfolk for a missing ferry crewman

A desperate sea search was underway this morning as lifeboats from counties up and down the east coast hunted the sea off the Norfolk coast for a person who fell off a ferry in the early hours of this morning.

A missing person who went overboard on a ferry in the early hours of this morning and sparked a massive sea search is now unlikely to be found alive, coastguards have said.

Crews from Gorleston, Caister and Cromer joined lifeboats from Humber, Wells and Lowestoft in the search, which has also involved two helicopters, after a Mayday relay - the highest alert - was put out at around 5am.

Each lifeboat and helicopter was given an area to search along the ferry's route and information was sought from the captain about when the crew member was last seen to enable them to focus the rescue effort.

It is believed he was last seen at midnight, and was reported missing just before 5am.

Lifeboat crews are also searching the coastline. The tide means that the person may have drifted some distance the sea, and the search has covered around 100 nautical miles from east of Lowestoft up to the River Humber.

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

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

Watch manager Peter Wheeler, of Yarmouth Coastguard, said: “The massive offshore search has been ongoing. We don't know when he went overboard and so a whole area of the sea has been searched.

“He was last seen at midnight and was missed at about 5am, so in the worst case it could have happened 10 hours ago, meaning it would be very unlikely he would be found alive.

“Unfortunately, hopes of finding the crewman from the ferry are fading and with the sea temperature of 10 degrees centigrade there is limited survival time in the water at this time of year.

“Eight lifeboats and two helicopters have been out and people are also searching all around the coast but we are beginning to reduce the search in certain areas. We will be winding down the search within the hour.”

Cromer RNLI lifeboat crew member Adam Lincoln added: “At first our search was very extensive - covering an enormous area. This was later narrowed to individual search areas for each of the lifeboats. At this moment we are continuing to search for the missing man as instructed by the Coastguard.

“Obviously at this time of the year the sea conditions are fairly good but the water's cold and so unless he was wearing adequate survival equipment it would limit his chances of survival.”

Some of the lifeboats have now returned to their lifeboat stations but others are still out at sea.

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