Greenpeace has admitted it is "deeply, deeply worried" about a British activist who has gone missing from one of its ships in the Amazon delta. Yesterday the Brazilian authorities launched an investigation into whether her disappearance is linked to the group's campaign against illegal logging.
Emily Craddock, 27, a radio operator, was last seen on board the MV Arctic Sunrise shortly after midnight on Friday as the vessel was returning from a campaigning tour 1,500 miles north of Rio de Janeiro. A rescue operation, led by a helicopter and aircraft belonging to Greenpeace and staff from Brazil's environmental protection agency, Ibama, continued throughout the day but last night hopes that Ms Craddock could have survived 72 hours in the Amazonian waters were fading.
A spokeswoman for Greenpeace International, Mhairi Dunlop, said: "At the moment we are putting all our efforts into the search operation. Obviously it is deeply, deeply worrying and extremely distressing for her family. We are very concerned for her safety."
The Amazon delta is one of the largest stretches of open river in the world, and at the place where Ms Craddock went missing is between three and ten miles wide. Greenpeace have confirmed that they fear the radio technician, from Primrose Hill, north London, may have fallen overboard and are not treating her disappearance as suspicious. But Brazilian police have nonetheless launched in investigation that will look into the possible involvement of loggers, who have issued a series of threats against the ship since October. A spokesman for the state police in the coastal city of Belem, where the Arctic Sunrise was due to dock shortly before Ms Craddock was discovered to be missing, said: "It is normal practice to look into all circumstances of a disappearance. If there have been threats made, then it is right to see if there is any connection with what has happened."
The Greenpeace campaign to highlight the illegal destruction of rainforest along the Xingu river, which flows into the Amazon delta about 250 miles west of Belem in the north of Brazil, has met strong opposition from logging gangs. Last month loggers tried to prevent the Arctic Sunrise, an icebreaker, from reaching the Xingu from the Amazon. Community leaders in the area who have expressed support for Greenpeace had been warned that the vessel would be attacked and burned.
Conflict between the Brazilian authorities and the illegal loggers has intensified in recent months. The gangs claim that a crackdown on teams stripping the Xingu forestsof timber to turn the area into agricultural land is damaging the local economy.
The region between Porta de Moz, where the Arctic Sunrise was returning from, and Belem is of the main areas of rainforest destruction in the Amazon, where more than 10,000 square miles of forest is estimated to vanish every year. Ms Craddock, a former nursery school teacher who has worked for Greenpeace for four years, was last seen at about 12.30am on Friday by the Brazilian river pilot as he left the Arctic Sunrise on its final approach to Belem.
It is not clear whether she was coming to the end of a shift or was on leisure time. The graduate, who attended Loughborough University, was the ship's sole radio operator, in charge of monitoring communications and sending and receiving messages. Her disappearance was discovered at 8am when she failed to answer an alarm call.
The ship, which has a crew of about 30, immediately turned around and sailed back to the area where it is thought Ms Craddock vanished, between 17 and 34 miles west of Belem. Three inflatable dinghies, a helicopter and Cessna aircraft owned by Greenpeace were joined in the search by a second helicopter from Ibama and vessels from the Belem port authority.
Ms Dunlop said: "The Arctic Sunrise is zig-zagging throughout the area and co-ordinating grid searches of the river but we are only able to search during daylight." Greenpeace is also asking the communities who live on the banks of the Amazon to help in the search.
The Foreign Office said that it was keeping Ms Craddock's family informed of any developments. Her father Malcolm, a television producer who made the Sharpe series starring Sean Bean for ITV, was last night unavailable for comment at the family home.