THE latest leg of the round-the-world Clipper Race has been dramatically halted amid safety fears.

Organisers ordered the 12 yachts to stop racing after three developed problems with their rigging.

Worries that continuing the competition would put crew members at risk forced Hampshire-based Clipper Ventures to call a halt and tell crews to head for Hong Kong.

The competing teams, which include 11 sailors from Hampshire, set sail from Singapore last week bound for Southampton's twin city in China, Qingdao.

But after the faults were detected in three of the yachts, all brand new and the same model, race founder and yachting legend Sir Robin Knox-Johnston decided to cancel the race.

Now the boats have been ordered to switch their engines on and motor to 700 miles Hong Kong, where they are expected to arrive on Saturday.

It is hoped that the race will be restarted to Qingdao 24 hours later after the problems have been fixed.

Sir Robin said: “There is clearly a fault with this part of the rigging and we are not prepared to take any risks with the remaining boats so far unaffected.

“In Hong Kong the forestay bottlescrews will be replaced with a system we have just had approved by the MCA surveyor.”

The issues emerged over the weekend, with Jamaica Get All Right suffering the first failure, forcing it to be diverted to Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia.

Last night PSP Logistics, sponsored by the Farheam based freight forwarding company of the same name, experienced the second failure, followed a few hours later by Derry~Londonderry~Doire.

Race organisers said the options for the Hong Kong to Qingdao leg are being assessed at present and further information will be forthcoming, but it appears unlikely that the Qingdao schedule will be affected much, if at all.A spokesman said: “The crew on board all the vessels are fine and well and conditions safe.”

No points will be awarded and Race 9 will start afresh from Hong Kong to Qingdao. The yachts that have retired will not be penalised.