Search for sailors after yacht hijacked by escaped prisoners

Two sailors are missing in the eastern Caribbean after the yacht they were on was hijacked by three escaped prisoners.

The two occupants of the boat are believed to be US citizens but their whereabouts and condition are unconfirmed.

The three prisoners, who have been arrested, are believed to have seized the yacht from Grenada's capital, St George's, and sailed 80 miles to the neighbouring island of St Vincent.

The owners of the yacht haven't been officially identified, but the non-profit Salty Dawg Sailing Association identified them as Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel.

It said they are "veteran cruisers" and longtime members of the association, calling them "warm-hearted and capable".

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The association said a cruising skipper had contacted the association about a member's yacht, Simplicity, which was found "anchored and abandoned" off a beach on the island of St Vincent.

"The good Samaritan had boarded the boat and noted that the owners … were not onboard and found evidence of apparent violence," the association said in a statement.

"This is a very upsetting event and details are still unconfirmed by the authorities, but this does appear to be a tragic event," said Bob Osborn, the association's president. "In all my years of cruising the Caribbean, I have never heard of anything like this."

The authorities in Grenada said they dispatched investigators St Vincent, where the escaped prisoners were arrested on Wednesday.

The prisoners, ages 19, 25 and 30, were charged with one count of robbery with violence. The eldest also was charged with one count of rape, three counts of attempted rape and two counts of indecent assault and causing harm, police in Grenada said.

The three men escaped from their holding cell on 18 February, according to police.