THE search for a missing boat off the coast of Conwy has discovered a sunken vessel "of significant interest".

The UK Government Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), which has searched for the Nicola Faith since the start of February, said it has located the wreck of a vessel in the Colwyn Bay area.

Sadly, the bodies of three crew members, Ross Ballantine, 39, Carl McGrath, 34, and Alan Minard, 20, have been identified after being discovered on the Wirral and Blackpool.

A Notice of Direction to Prohibit Access has been issued in the area of the new-found wreck while an investigation is carried out.

"A sunken vessel deemed to be of significant interest has been located in the Colwyn Bay area by an MAIB commissioned vessel searching for the missing fishing vessel Nicola Faith," a MAIB spokesperson said.

"The Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents has issued a ‘Notice of Direction to Prohibit Access’ around the wreck requiring that it be left undisturbed until further notice, pending further investigation by the MAIB."

The notice prohibits anchoring, fishing by nets, trawls or lines, and carrying out diving operations within a 200-metre radius of the wreck’s location.

MAIB, which is probing the disappearance of the fishing boat on January 27, acquired the use of the Rhodri Morgan from the Welsh Government last month and has covered more than 30 square miles of seabed.

MAIB said it has identified the vessel’s primary operating area, which it said has been searched "with a considerable amount of overlap".

"The specialist equipment that is being used is extremely sensitive and the search has been hampered by poor weather in recent weeks," a MAIB spokesperson said.

A private search is also being led by oceanographer David Mearns, a deep water rescue specialist who helped to recover the wreckage of the plane carrying Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala. Mr Mearns's expertise and resources were acquired after a huge fundraising effort has gathered more than £84,000.

He has hired survey contractor SEP Hydrographic with equipment including a multi-beam sonar and side-scanner.

The search has covered areas about 4.5km off the Great Orme and ruled out possible sightings including an 11-metre shipwreck and a patch of diesel fuel off Pen Trwyn point.

The families are understood to have been kept fully updated on the ongoing search efforts.