Thursday 24 August 2017

Yachting company boss convicted of failing to ensure safety of Cheeki Rafiki

Douglas Innes arrives at Winchester Crown Court where the jury has retired in the trial of the yachting company boss who is accused of the manslaughter of the four crew of the Cheeki Rafiki who were lost at sea when it capsized mid-Atlantic Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
Douglas Innes arrives at Winchester Crown Court where the jury has retired in the trial of the yachting company boss who is accused of the manslaughter of the four crew of the Cheeki Rafiki who were lost at sea when it capsized mid-Atlantic Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Ben Mitchell

A yachting company boss has been found guilty of failing to ensure the safety of the Cheeki Rafiki yacht in which four sailors were killed when it capsized mid-Atlantic.

A jury at Winchester Crown Court convicted Douglas Innes, of Whitworth Crescent, Southampton, for failing to operate the yacht in a safe manner.

His company, Stormforce Coaching Limited, was also convicted of failing to operate the yacht in a safe manner contrary to section 100 Merchant Shipping Act.

The jury are still considering manslaughter charges concerning the four crew members.

Innes, 42, showed no emotion as the chairman of the 11-person jury announced the verdicts for the two charges which were reached by a majority of 10-1.

The trial has heard that the Cheeki Rafiki lost its keel as the crew were returning the 40ft yacht from Antigua to the UK in May 2014 when it got into trouble more than 700 miles from Nova Scotia.

The four crew members were skipper Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham in Surrey, with James Male, 22, from Southampton, as well as Steve Warren, 52, and Paul Goslin, 56, both from Somerset.

The US Coastguard was criticised for calling off its search after two days but after protests from family and friends and intervention by the British government, the search was restarted and the boat found but without any sign of the four men.

Nigel Lickley QC, prosecuting, told the jury that Innes and his company had been in charge of the Cheeki Rafiki, named after a character in the Lion King, for three years.

He said the yacht, which had grounded on three occasions in the past three years, had an undetected fault with bolts holding the three tonne keel to the hull which then failed causing it to fall off in bad weather during the voyage.

Mr Lickley said the yacht was not appropriately coded - licensed for the voyage - and Innes had chosen an "unsafe" northern route" because it was shorter and enabled the yacht to return back to the UK in time for booked charters of the vessel.

He said that Innes had a "duty of care" to the four men and "not to save money at every turn" and not to put "profit over compliance" with the yacht's coding, or commercial certificate, with the Yacht Designers and Surveyors Association (YDSA).

Mr Lickley said: "The yacht was therefore unsound, broken and unsafe before the four men left Antigua. The yacht had been neglected, not maintained and importantly, because the yacht was used commercially by Mr Innes and his company, not inspected as required."

The trial also heard that when Innes received an email from the skipper, Mr Bridge, headed as "urgent" he carried on drinking in a pub before only later alerting the Coastguard.

Innes told the court that any fault with the keel had lain hidden and would not necessarily have been found by an inspector and that he believed the yacht had not required the coding because he did not consider the journey to be a commercial voyage.

He also denied he had cut costs or tried to save time by sending the yacht back to the UK via the northern route.

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