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FEARS GROW FOR ROWERS

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

16:07 UK

Fears are growing for the safety of two Britons trying to row across the Indian Ocean amid concern their storm-lashed boat may fall apart.

One is "in a bad way" after being knocked unconscious and their boat is "creaking badly".

Ships are racing to rescue the duo - but the nearest is believed to be 36 hours away.

Rob Abernethy and Mike Noel-Smith are attempting to row 4,000 miles to raise money for charity.

Rob sent an email to Scope, one of the main sponsors, saying "Mike's head/brain is in a bad way" after he was knocked out while adjusting the rudder.

He said father-of-three Mike, 45, "has also broken his nose and damaged his eye and needs medical attention asap" to make sure there are no serious complications.

"Happily he was wearing a harness or he would not be lying next to me now," Rob added.

Rob, a former army officer, said they had "gone through the worst storm imaginable" since the accident.

The 23-foot boat had suffered structural damage in key areas - the rudder, storm anchors and rowing rail, he said.

At one point the boat capsized and remained "turtle" - upside down - for two minutes.

He said the panels which hold the rear cabin together "are now creaking violently and we think that the storm may have had its effect on the actual make up of the boat".

The pair are believed to be1,500 miles off Australia's West Coast.

Project director Chris Cherrington said they were too far offshore for an air rescue.

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