A CLOSE friend of a Southampton woman missing in the US Virgin Islands says her disappearance was not reported to coastguards for nine hours.

Former air hostess Sarm Heslop, 41, has not been seen since March 8, when she vanished from a £500,000 catamaran owned by her American boyfriend, Ryan Bane.

Police say Mr Bane is refusing to let them search the 47ft Siren Song, which is moored off St John.

Ms Heslop's best friend in the UK is Andrew Baldwin, 41, of Fawley, who has known her for more than 25 years.

He said: "We know Mr Bane called the local police at 2.30am and was told to call the Coastguard.

"The Coastguard was reported as saying it was alerted to her disappearance by Mr Bane at 11.46am. This timeline just does not make sense to us.

“We also cannot understand why Mr Bane’s lawyer has denied officers’ requests to search the boat."

In a statement the Virgin Islands Police Department said officers met Mr Bane shortly after he rang 911 to report Ms Heslop’s disappearance.

Mr Bane was told to call the United States Coast Guard, which conducted a search of the vessel "later that morning".

The statement added: "Soon after reporting Ms Heslop missing, Mr Bane acquired the services of an attorney. Mr Bane exercised his constitutional right to remain silent and denied officers’ requests to search the vessel."

A friend of Mr Bane says he is "totally distraught" following Ms Heslop's disappearance.

The friend is reported to have said: "He is beside himself with grief and worry. He is heartbroken. I know from what he's said that Ryan and Sarm were very much in love."

Mr Bane's lawyers issued a statement saying: "His thoughts and prayers are with Sarm and her family during this difficult time.

"Mr Bane has spent countless hours searching for Sarm and will continue to do so. Ryan is devastated that Sarm is missing.”

Ms Heslop's parents, Peter Heslop and Brenda Street, are praying she will be found alive.

In a statement they said they hoped everything possible was being done to find their "beautiful and cherished daughter", including a fingertip search of the boat."

In a separate statement her friends and supporters added: "We are not giving up hope.

"There is a strong group of her family and friends in the UK and abroad who will not stop pushing for answers until we find our friend."

Ms Heslop used to work for FlyBe, the regional airline that went out of business in March last year.

In 2010 she was chosen to help promote the Daily Echo-backed Flybe Local Heroes Awards, launched to honour organisations and individuals who make a difference.

Ms Heslop and her colleagues were pictured with one of the judges, Saints legend Matt Le Tissier.