The search continues for a 41-year-old British woman who went missing from a boat that was moored off the coast of the U.S. Virgin Islands earlier this month, but police now say the woman’s boyfriend, an American man, has acquired a lawyer and will not allow them to search the vessel.
Sarm Heslop was last seen on the boat, which is owned and operated by Ryan Bane, on the evening of March 7 after the couple went out for dinner.
Virgin Islands police officers met with Bane around 2:30 a.m. on March 8 when he reported her missing. Officers performed an initial land search and told Bane to contact the U.S. Coast Guard, who did conduct a search of the vessel later that morning, according to the U.S. Virgin Islands Police Department.
But Virgin Islands police now say that Bane lawyered up and has not allowed them to search the boat since Heslop went missing nearly two weeks ago.
“Soon after reporting Ms. Heslop missing, Mr. Bane acquired the services of an attorney,” a spokesperson for the police department said in a statement Friday. “Upon his attorney’s advice, Mr. Bane exercised his constitutional right to remain silent and denied officers’ requests to search the vessel.”
The U.S. Coast Guard did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday evening.
Bane’s lawyer, David Cattie, said that his client immediately called 911 when he realized she was missing around 2:30 a.m., “then traveled to meet members of the [Virgin Islands Police Department] to give a statement regarding Sarm.”
“Later that morning, the US Coast Guard came to Mr. Bane’s vessel (Siren Song) at Mr. Bane’s request,” Cattie said in a statement to Fox News Friday. “Multiple USCG officers boarded the vessel and interviewed Mr. Bane on the vessel. Mr. Bane, at the request of Sarm’s family, then turned over her personal belongings to [Virgin Islands Police Department], including her cell phone, iPad, passport, etc.”
Heslop’s friends in the United Kingdom have been pushing for police to ramp up the investigation and search Bane’s 47-foot catamaran. Andrew Baldwin, a friend of Heslop’s, said this week that he finds it “incredibly difficult” to believe she fell off the boat.
“It’s been eight days since Sarm disappeared,” Baldwin told Fox News Wednesday. “Eight days in, they could’ve found anything on the boat.”
Heslop’s family said Thursday that they are “shocked and distraught” that she is missing.
“We would like assurance that the authorities in the Virgin Islands are doing everything possible to find her and that the investigation into our beautiful and cherished daughter’s disappearance includes a comprehensive fingertip search of the boat,” the family said in a statement.
The Virgin Islands Police Department said it is continuing the search for Heslop, including conducting multiple searches daily and going through hours of surveillance video that may shed light on her disappearance.
U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad told the Virgin Islands Daily News that immediately after Heslop went missing, they searched the “shoreline, adjacent islands, and all the waters around and out to sea from where the vessel was located,” which was about 50 yards offshore in Frank Bay.
“We had a Coast Guard helicopter searching that afternoon and the search continued throughout the night,” Castrodad told the local newspaper. “Conditions were excellent as far as visibility, sea state, and there were no signs of anyone in the water.”
Anyone with information about Heslop’s disappearance should call 911 or the Criminal Investigation Bureau in the St. Thomas / St. John District at (340) 774-2211 or in the St. Croix District at (340) 778-2211.
Fox News’ Stephen Sorace contributed to this report.