A man­slaugh­ter ver­dict is handed down in a 2014 sail­boat cap­size that killed four sailors.

Soundings - - Contents - By Kim Kavin

Are­trial is ex­pected on man­slaugh­ter charges in the case of Cheeki Rafiki, a Beneteau First 40.7 that cap­sized in 2014 more than 620 miles off Cape Cod, Mas­sachusetts, killing four Bri­tish sailors. The boat was en route to Eng­land af­ter com­pet­ing in An­tigua Sail­ing Week. In mid-July, a jury voted 10-1 in Eng­land to con­vict Dou­glas Innes, di­rec­tor of Cheeki Rafiki’s man­age­ment com­pany, Storm­force Coach­ing Ltd., on a charge of breach­ing Sec­tion 100 of the U.K.’s Mer­chant Ship­ping Act. That sec­tion states that it is a ship owner’s duty “to take all rea­son­able steps to se­cure that the ship is op­er­ated in a safe man­ner.”

The jury, af­ter four days of de­lib­er­a­tions, failed to reach a ver­dict on four man­slaugh­ter charges in the deaths of the Cheeki Rafiki crew: Paul Goslin, 56; Steve War­ren, 52; An­drew Bridge, 22; and James Male, 22.

The cap­size be­came an in­ter­na­tional in­ci­dent when the U.S. Coast Guard called off its search for the sailors af­ter 53 hours. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Bri­tish in­ves­ti­ga­tors, con­di­tions at the time of the in­ci­dent in­cluded 28-knot winds and seas big­ger than 15 feet. Dur­ing the en­su­ing cou­ple of days, the Coast Guard re­ported search con­di­tions with 30- to 50-knot winds and 12- to 15-foot seas. Those con­di­tions, plus a water tem­per­a­ture of 61 F, led the Coast Guard to es­ti­mate max­i­mum sur­vival time at 20 hours, far less than the 53 hours the agency searched.

Nev­er­the­less, an on­line pe­ti­tion with more than 240,000 sig­na­tures urged the Coast Guard to re­sume its ef­forts, and well-known per­son­al­i­ties be­came in­volved. Bri­tish yachts­man and en­tre­pre­neur Richard Bran­son took to Twitter in sup­port of the cam­paign. Top sailors, in­clud­ing Ellen MacArthur, Mike Gold­ing, Sir Robin Knox John­ston and Sir Ben Ainslie, also urged the Coast Guard to keep look­ing. Ul­ti­mately, an of­fi­cial re­quest from the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment led the Coast Guard to re­sume the search. Five air­craft from the United States, Canada and Great Bri­tain, in­clud­ing a Royal Air Force Her­cules C-130 sent from the Azores, cov­ered more than 17,500 square miles of search grids, with help from com­mer­cial and pri­vate ves­sels.

The sailors’ bod­ies were never lo­cated. A con­tainer ship found Cheeki Rafiki (named for a char­ac­ter in The Lion King) cap­sized with her keel gone and her life raft still on board, fol­low­ing the ac­ti­va­tion of two crewmem­bers’ per­sonal lo­ca­tor bea­cons. Ac­cord­ing to U.K. in­ves­ti­ga­tors, Cheeki Rafiki was a 2006 Beneteau that Fast Sail­ing Ltd. orig­i­nally owned and Is­land Char­ters at first man­aged for skip­pered and rac­ing char­ters in the United King­dom. In 2011, Storm­force Coach­ing took over com­mer­cial man­age­ment of the char­ter pro­gram. Cheeki Rafiki en­tered the ARC trans-At­lantic in 2011 and 2013; sailed in the Caribbean dur­ing the win­ters of 2011-

12 and 2013-14; par­tic­i­pated in the Round Bar­ba­dos and Caribbean 600 races dur­ing the 2013-14 sea­son; and was used for va­ca­tions by her owner in Jan­uary 2014 and by a Storm­force Coach­ing di­rec­tor in April 2014.

None­the­less, Innes’ con­vic­tion in Bri­tain was based on a pros­e­cu­tion ar­gu­ment that even prior to the May 2014 cap­size, Cheeki Rafiki was un­safe to sail.

No­body ques­tioned the crew’s com­pe­tence or abil­ity to un­der­take a north­ern route to Southamp­ton fol­low­ing An­tigua Sail­ing Week. In­ves­ti­ga­tors noted that the skip­per, Bridge, held an RYA/MCA Yacht­mas­ter Ocean cer­tifi­cate, had com­pleted the In­ter­na­tional Sail­ing Fed­er­a­tion Off­shore Safety Course and had about 22,500 miles of sail­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, in­clud­ing some 5,000 miles as skip­per and hav­ing helmed the yacht from Las Pal­mas, in the Ca­nary Is­lands, to St. Lu­cia in the Caribbean.

Male was an in­tern who had com­pleted an RYA/MCA Coastal Skip­per/ Yacht­mas­ter Off­shore course on land and held an RYA/MCA Ad­vanced Power­boat cer­tifi­cate with com­mer­cial en­dorse­ment. Gosling was a den­tal sur­geon who pre­vi­ously had done a pas­sage from Nor­way to Scot­land, com­pleted the same Skip­per/Yacht­mas­ter Off­shore course on land and logged about 2,500 sail­ing miles, in­clud­ing skip­per­ing yachts on 11 char­ters. War­ren was an elec­tri­cal de­sign en­gi­neer with about 3,500 miles of yacht ex­pe­ri­ence. Like Gosling, War­ren had skip­pered yachts dur­ing char­ters and com­pleted the land-based course.

By con­trast, the pros­e­cu­tion de­scribed Innes, 44, as a cost- cut­ting com­pany boss who failed to act on an email from one of the sailors, stat­ing that the yacht was tak­ing on water, and in­stead con­tin­ued a night out drink­ing. Pros­e­cu­tors said that Innes also failed to en­sure that the 3- ton keel was prop­erly at­tached fol­low­ing ground­ings dur­ing pre­vi­ous years. A re­port by U.K. in­ves­ti­ga­tors de­tailed ground­ings at Cowes Week in 2007, at the Round the Is­land Race in 2010, at a Fast­net train­ing event in 2011 af­ter Storm­force Coach­ing took over man­age­ment, and twice on ap­proach to the yacht’s moor­ing at Sham­rock Quay ma­rina in Southamp­ton.

Pros­e­cu­tors fur­ther ar­gued that dur­ing the May 2014 storm, bolts sup­posed to hold Cheeki Rafiki’s keel in place failed, caus­ing the keel to fall off and the yacht to cap­size. They also cited an email from Innes to one of the sailors, prior to loss of con­tact, in which Innes sug­gested that the crew check the keel bolts to “make sure there is no crack­ing around them,” and of­fered ev­i­dence that some bolts had bro­ken be­fore the yacht even left the U.K. to sail to the Caribbean a half-year ear­lier.

Pros­e­cu­tors told the jury that a “rapid cap­size” would likely have oc­curred with the keel torn off, hurl­ing on-deck sailors into the water and trap­ping other sailors in­side.

“What is clear from two of the emer­gency bea­cons used by An­drew Bridge and James Male is that they may have sur­vived for some time, most prob­a­bly in the water, that is un­til they were lost, too,” prose­cu­tor Nigel Lick­ley said in court, ac­cord­ing to the BBC.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Cheeki Rafiki had been cer­ti­fied for com­mer­cial use only 60 miles from a safe haven, and that cer­ti­fi­ca­tion had ex­pired prior to the cap­size, the pros­e­cu­tion told ju­rors. Innes ar­gued that he didn’t think it was nec­es­sary to have a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for the de­liv­ery. He also told the court that in­spec­tions would not nec­es­sar­ily have found any prob­lems with the keel bolts.

Fol­low­ing the guilty ver­dict on breach of the Mer­chant Ship­ping Act, Innes was re­leased on un­con­di­tional bail, with a fu­ture hear­ing date to be sched­uled.

The Royal Yacht­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, not­ing that the de­liv­ery of Cheeki

Rafiki had been ar­ranged by an RYA-rec­og­nized train­ing cen­ter, sus­pended recog­ni­tion of Storm­force Coach­ing as an RYA Train­ing Cen­ter and sus­pended all of Innes’ RYA in­struc­tor qual­i­fi­ca­tions, pend­ing an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

A 65-page re­port that Bri­tain’s Marine Ac­ci­dent In­ves­ti­ga­tion Branch re­leased in 2015 was among the ev­i­dence gath­ered, with in­ves­ti­ga­tors stat­ing even prior to the Innes con­vic­tion that the is­sues raised by the Cheeki Rafiki case were worth con­sid­er­a­tion among sailors, yacht own­ers and in­dus­try lead­ers world­wide.

That MAIB re­port stated that in the ab­sence of any ap­par­ent dam­age to the hull or rud­der (at least none di­rectly re­lated to the keel de­tach­ing), it was un­likely that Cheeki Rafiki had struck a sub­merged object. The more likely rea­son for the keel fail­ure was a “com­bined ef­fect of pre­vi­ous ground­ings and sub­se­quent re­pairs,” pos­si­bly weak­en­ing the yacht’s struc­ture at the point of keel at­tach­ment. With that point of at­tach­ment loose and one or more keel bolts

hav­ing de­te­ri­o­rated, the keel could have moved, es­pe­cially in rough seas (in­clud­ing what the skip­per de­scribed as a hit from a “big wave”), ac­cord­ing to the MAIB re­port.

That find­ing was note­wor­thy, given that just prior to the cap­size, a di­rec­tor of Storm­force Coach­ing had skip­pered Cheeki

Rafiki dur­ing An­tigua Sail­ing Week, with Bridge and Male aboard as crew. Marine growth had been cleaned from the yacht’s hull prior to the first race, with no vis­i­ble de­fects seen in the keel/hull in­ter­face, keel, saildrive or rud­der and hull aper­tures. The hull had been cleaned a sec­ond time mid­week, with an­other vis­ual check show­ing no de­fects. Goslin and War­ren had joined the oth­ers for the last of the week’s races, help­ing Cheeki Rafiki to win the Beneteau First 40.7 Class. By all ac­counts, just prior to the deadly ac­ci­dent, the yacht had sailed well, with no re­ported prob­lems.

The re­port noted that when Farr Yacht De­sign worked with Beneteau to pen the plans for the 40.7, there was no In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Stan­dard­iza­tion stan­dard for keel de­sign and at­tach­ment. Farr De­sign fol­lowed Amer­i­can Bureau of Ship­ping rules. Later, in 2012, the ISO pub­lished a stan­dard for sail­ing ves­sel ap­pendages, in­clud­ing load cri­te­ria for keel struc­tures; de­sign­ers and builders to­day re­fer to them.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors found that the “ma­jor­ity of the de­sign” on the Beneteau 40.7 would have met the newer stan­dard. How­ever, their re­port also noted “much anec­do­tal ev­i­dence re­gard­ing ma­trix de­tach­ments on Beneteau First 40.7 yachts,” com­monly hap­pen­ing for­ward ( at­trib­ut­able to slam­ming) and abaft the keel’s at­tach­ment point to the hull ( as a re­sult of ground­ings).

In­ves­ti­ga­tors also noted that be­cause of the way the 40.7’ s keel is at­tached dur­ing the build process, “it is not pos­si­ble to see the bonded ar­eas. It is there­fore dif­fi­cult to read­ily iden­tify ar­eas where a de­tach­ment has oc­curred, mean­ing that it is pos­si­ble for a de­tach­ment to re­main un­de­tected.”

Put more bluntly, the re­port con­cluded that even crewmem­bers who know a yacht well may not be able to de­tect a dan­ger­ous prob­lem: “A skip­per’s per­cep­tion that the force of a par­tic­u­lar ground­ing is in­suf­fi­cient to raise con­cern does not nec­es­sar­ily mean that sig­nif­i­cant dam­age has not oc­curred to the keel and/ or the ves­sel’s struc­ture.”

The MAIB said a rec­om­men­da­tion was made to the Bri­tish Marine Fed­er­a­tion to work with cer­ti­fi­ca­tion groups, boat­builders and re­pair fa­cil­i­ties to de­velop best prac­tice, in­dus­try-wide stan­dards for how yachts should be in­spected and re­paired when the yacht has a glass- re­in­forced plas­tic ma­trix and hull that are bonded to­gether — and to raise aware­ness “of the po­ten­tial dam­age caused by any ground­ing,” even when own­ers and crew can­not vis­ually dis­cern any prob­lems.

Cheeki Rafiki, a Beneteau First 40.7, had no keel when she was found. The four men on board were lost (be­low, from left): James Male, An­drew Bridge, Steve War­ren and Paul Goslin.

The 1st Coast Guard Dis­trict Com­mand Cen­ter co­or­di­nated the search ef­fort.

The Coast Guard cov­ered 25,000 square miles in two sep­a­rate searches for the crew of Cheeki Rafiki.

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