Missing British sailor presumed dead: ocean race chief

Wellington (AFP) - British around-the-world sailor John Fisher is presumed dead after being washed overboard into churning Southern Ocean waters during the Volvo Ocean Race, event organisers say.

Fisher went missing while on watch aboard the yacht SHK/Scallywag at 1342 GMT Monday some 2,250 kilometres (1,400 miles) west of Cape Horn on the tip of South America.

He was wearing survival gear but a desperate search by Scallywag failed to find him and the yacht was forced to head for port as weather conditions deteriorated.

Race president Richard Brisius said there was no hope of finding the 47-year-old alive.

"Given the cold water temperature and the extreme sea state, along with the time that has now passed since he went overboard, we must now presume that John has been lost at sea," he said in an update late Tuesday.

"All of us here at the Volvo Ocean Race organisation send our heartfelt condolences out to John's family, his friends and his teammates and we will do everything in our power to support them in this very difficult time."

Brisius said an investigation would be launched, acknowledging "there will be many questions" about how such an accident occurred.

But he said the immediate priority was looking after Fisher's devastated team-mates.

"The crew is, of course, emotionally and physically drained after what they have just experienced," he said.

"Our sole focus now is to provide all the support and assistance that we can to the team."

The race has already been marred by tragedy, when Vestas 11th Hour Racing collided with a trawler on its way to Hong Kong, killing a fisherman.

The Race fleet set off from Auckland on March 18 on the toughest stretch of the around-the-world epic.

The 14,075 kilometre leg takes the yachts across inhospitable waters from New Zealand to Cape Horn and then up South America's eastern coast to the Brazilian city of Itajai.

The 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race is the longest in the competition's 44-year history, stretching over eight months and 45,000 nautical miles around the globe and ending in The Hague in the Netherlands in late June.