WE BELIEVE James and his crewmates are still alive.”

That is the message from the families of four missing yachtsmen who are putting pressure on the US Government to restart the search for the Cheeki Rafiki and her crew.

A huge search operation covering 4,000 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean was launched by the US Coastguard, but it was called off on Sunday.

Now a petition calling for the search to be resumed has 115,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the search to be resumed.

The men – 23-year-old James Male from Romsey, 21-year-old Andrew Bridge from Surrey, 52-year-old Steve Warren and 56-year-old Paul Goslin, both from Somerset – were on their way back to Southampton from a sailing event in the Caribbean.

Today their families are calling on Foreign Secretary William Hague to intervene.

Mr Male’s father, Graham, said: “Our main goal has to be to get the search reinstated.

The longer it takes, the harder it will become to find them.”

Mr Male’s family have spoken to Romsey and Southampton North MP Caroline Nokes, who is acting as an intermediary with Conservative colleague Mr Hague.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the local MP for one of the missing men, has appealed to the US Coast Guard not to give up and entrepreneur and adventurer Sir Richard Branson has called on vessels near the area to keep a lookout.

Mr Hunt, MP for South West Surrey, the constituency in which Mmissing Andrew Bridge lives, tweeted his support for the search to restart.

He wrote: ''Desperate 4 families of missing yachtsman,one from Farnham. I know US Coastguard has done masses but pls don't stop looking.2 soon 2 give up''.

An online petition asking the Coastguard to start the search again had passed 115,000 signatures on the change.org website this morning.

Family friend James Natasha Phillips has also designed a logo to help keep support building.

Ms Nokes said: “What we are conscious of is that these are highly trained yachtsmen with a top-ofthe- range life raft, and what the families are keen to emphasize is that these aren’t weekend sailors and will have lots of training.

“They want additional searching when visibility has improved and these men given every chance of survival.

Heather McIlroy, head teacher at Mr Male’s former school, The Mountbatten School in Romsey, described him as a “very popular student who loved the outdoor life and played an active part in the wider life of the school.”

She added: “James’s positivity and commitment served as a fine example to other students. We remain hopeful for a positive outcome.”

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “We are aware of a missing yacht off the East Coast of the USA with four British nationals on board. We are in continual contact with the US Coastguard and are providing consular assistance to the families.”

When asked if the department believed if the US search had been comprehensive enough, she added: “Not for us to make an assessment from here, but we’ve been in continual contact with the US Coastguard and our coastguard in the UK.

“The US Coastguard has given us assurances that they have conducted a fully exhaustive search.”

Andrew Pindar, who runs the GAC Pindar racing team, said that crew members could still have been trapped inside the Cheeki Rafiki’s hull when it was spotted by the Greek container ship Maersk Kure.

He cited the example of Ton y Bullimore, who survived on a pocket of air under his capsized yacht in the Southern Ocean for five days before being rescued in 1997.

Mr Bridge was being paid by Southampton-based yacht training and charter company Stormforce Coaching for his role as captain. A spokeswoman for the firm said. He had taken part in Antigua Week together with Mr Male, Mr Goslin and Mr Warren, all described as “very experienced offshore yachtsmen”.