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Friends of a U.K. woman who disappeared from her American boyfriend’s boat in the Virgin Islands earlier this month are calling for a thorough search of the vessel and have questioned an apparent nine-hour delay in his reporting the disappearance to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Sarm Joan Lillian Heslop, 41, was reported missing on March 8 after last being seen the night before aboard the 47-foot catamaran Siren Song, which was moored off the coast of St. John, according to a statement from the Virgin Islands Police Department.
Heslop and her boyfriend, 44-year-old Ryan Bane, had returned to the boat around 10 p.m. on March 7 after dining together, The Evening Standard reports.
Hours later, around 2:30 a.m., Bane reportedly discovered her missing and called 911 to report the disappearance. His attorney, David Cattie, told Fox News that Bane “traveled to meet members of the (Virgin Islands Police Department) to give a statement regarding Sarm.”
Virgin Islands Police spokesman Toby Derima said officers performed an “initial land search” for Heslop and instructed Bane to call the U.S. Coast Guard. However, Bane allegedly didn’t place that call until 11:46 a.m.—approximately nine hours later.
He also refused to let authorities search his boat, local police said.
“Soon after reporting Ms. Heslop missing, Mr. Bane acquired the services of an attorney,” Derima said, according to the Evening Standard. “Upon his attorney’s advice, Mr. Bane exercised his constitutional right to remain silent and denied officers’ requests to search the vessel.”
Cattie, however, said that “multiple USCG officers” had boarded the vessel, interviewed Bane on the boat and “conducted a search of the vessel for Ms. Heslop later that morning.”
In a statement to Oxygen.com, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard District 7 confirmed that a call had been placed to the Coast Guard reporting the disappearance at 11:46 a.m. on March 8. They also verified that Coast Guard officials had been on the boat—although the extent of any search that may have occurred is not clear.
“As part of the search and rescue effort, the Coast Guard went aboard the vessel to interview and gather information from the reporting source. Later, the Coast Guard returned to the vessel to conduct a standard vessel safety check to ensure proper equipment and compliance with applicable rules and regulations for vessel type and operation,” the statement said.
The Coast Guard also conducted an “exhaustive surface maritime search” of the local shoreline, surrounding waters and surrounding islands using air and sea units for any sign of Heslop.
The Coast Guard suspended the active search after finding no signs of distress reported by the aviation or marine units, no response to the marine information broadcast and no additional information that would support continuing search efforts, authorities said.
Heslop’s family and friends are calling for a “thorough ‘fingertip’ search of the boat” conducted by police, according to a Facebook page created to help find the missing 41-year-old.
“Given that they lived on the boat, and that she's gone missing on the boat, that's a natural place for the police to search, and I just don't understand why Ryan won't allow that to happen to find Sarm. I don't get it," Heslop’s friend Andrew Baldwin told Fox News. "That's the frustration more than anything else."
Baldwin said Heslop’s phone, passport and belongings had been left on the vessel, which had been anchored in Frank Bay about 50 yards from the shore at the time she disappeared.
“She would not just disappear, leaving no trace,” he said. “She is savvy and sensible, it’s not like her at all. It just doesn’t add up.”
In a statement posted on the website created to find Heslop, those who know her say they “remain confused about the timeline” and are hopeful that police will find a way to search the vessel.
“We will not give up hope - we are determined to find our friend,” another statement read.
Police have described Heslop as a Caucasian female of unknown height and weight with a tattoo on her left shoulder.
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