image copyrightFamily photos

image captionAlan Minard, Ross Ballantine and Carl McGrath were all aboard the Nicola Faith went it went missing

A private search for a fishing boat that disappeared with three men aboard more than six weeks ago is to start this week.

The Nicola Faith failed to return to port at Conwy on 27 January.

A search for Ross Ballantine, 39, Alan Minard, 20, and skipper Carl McGrath, 34, was called off after two days.

Ocean recovery expert David Mearns, who found wreckage of the plane carrying footballer Emiliano Sala, is helping their families with technical advice.

image captionThe Nicola Faith’s empty life raft was found on 5 March off the coast of Scotland

Mr Mearns said: “I’m still confident that the boat can be found, though the search is largely dependent on the weather.

“With the type of sonar we use, the quality of the results is related to how calm the weather is. The tides are strong in the next few days in combination with the wind.”

More than £52,000 of a £75,000 target has been raised by the men’s families – enough to fund a specialist boat, team and equipment to begin searching.

A life raft from the boat was found off Kirkcudbrightshire in Scotland by HM Coastguard and has been positively identified by the Marine Accident Investigation branch (MAIB).

An investigation, run by the MAIB, is taking place and has included sonar surveys. The families are hoping their private searches will bring additional expertise to the investigation .

Mr Minard’s mother Nathania, said: “We are so grateful for all the support and generosity of the community.

“There has been so much activity around the fundraiser which in itself brings comfort and strength to the families.

“Thank you to everyone who has supported, donated, wished us hope and has helped us spread the word.”

image captionDavid Mearns found the plane that was carrying Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala

Much of the money to pay for the searches has been raised in one-off donations through a fundraising website.

Supporters have also been running raffles, ultra marathons and doing sponsored head shaves.

The families have also received support from comedian and writer Michael Palin, who said: “The families are trying to raise funds to continue the search.

“I completely understand them not wanting to give up if there is any chance at all of recovering the sunken ship and the men who went down in her, and I hope there will be others like myself who can make a contribution.”