Storm­force owner con­victed in Cheeki Rafiki trial

Yachting Monthly - - NEWS -

The owner of the yacht Cheeki Rafiki, which was lost at sea in 2014, has been found guilty of fail­ing to en­sure the safety of the yacht.

The jury at Winch­ester Crown Court con­victed Dou­glas Innes, 42, of the charge by a ma­jor­ity of ten-toone and also found his com­pany, Storm­force Coach­ing Lim­ited, guilty of the same charge. Mr Innes dis­played no emo­tions when the ver­dict was read out.

The jury was un­able, how­ever, to reach a ver­dict on four charges of man­slaugh­ter by gross neg­li­gence, and the case will be re­tried.

The 40ft Beneteau First 40.7 yacht cap­sized in the North At­lantic, 700 miles from Nova Sco­tia in May 2014 after los­ing its keel, re­sult­ing in the death of all four crew on board: An­drew Bridge, 22, James Male, 22, Steve War­ren, 52, and Paul Goslin, 56.

An ex­ten­sive search and res­cue op­er­a­tion, which saw US and UK gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion, suc­cess­fully lo­cated the ves­sel’s hull but did not find any sur­vivors.

The pros­e­cu­tion ar­gued dur­ing the trial that Cheeki Rafiki should have been in­spected be­fore she left An­tigua for the UK as part of her Cat­e­gory 2 MCA cod­ing. Mr Innes failed to have the yacht coded as Cat­e­gory 0, and it later emerged that some of the keel bolts had been bro­ken ‘for some time’ be­fore the yacht left the UK in Oc­to­ber 2013, they ar­gued.

The RYA re­sponded to the ver­dict, say­ing: ‘Whilst Cheeki Rafiki’s tragic pas­sage was not part of RYA train­ing ac­tiv­ity, the de­liv­ery was ar­ranged by an RYA-recog­nised train­ing cen­tre. In light of the court's find­ings, the RYA sus­pended recog­ni­tion of Storm­force Coach­ing as an RYA Train­ing Cen­tre pend­ing re­fer­ral to the Train­ing Com­mit­tee. The RYA also sus­pended all rel­e­vant in­struc­tor qual­i­fi­ca­tions held by Mr Innes with im­me­di­ate ef­fect, pend­ing a tri­bunal.’

Doug Innes also made a state­ment, say­ing: ‘Fol­low­ing the re­cent ver­dict in the Cheeki Rafiki trial on Fri­day 14 July, the RYA un­der­stand­ably sus­pended our recog­ni­tion the same day. With­out ac­cred­i­ta­tions we are un­able to trade and it is with great sad­ness that I have made the de­ci­sion for the com­pany to cease trad­ing.’

Gus Lewis, di­rec­tor at Do­rade Law, ex­plained the pos­si­ble sen­tences: ‘The charge of fail­ing to en­sure safety falls un­der Sec­tion 100 of the Mer­chant Ship­ping Act and car­ries a max­i­mum penalty of two years in prison, an unlimited fine or both. The charge of man­slaugh­ter by gross neg­li­gence is much harder to prove and the ex­ist­ing con­vic­tion is no in­di­ca­tion of a con­vic­tion for man­slaugh­ter.’

Farr Yacht De­sign pres­i­dent Pa­trick Shaugh­nessy, an ex­pert wit­ness in the case, ad­vised sailors talk to their yacht de­signer: ‘If you have an in­ci­dent that po­ten­tially caused struc­tural dam­age, con­tact your yacht de­signer. Your life, and those of your crew, de­pend on your de­ci­sion-mak­ing.’

Paul Birch, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Bishop Skin­ner Marine in­sur­ance, added: ‘All boat in­sur­ance poli­cies should have a clause in them al­low­ing lift­ing-out in or­der to sight the bot­tom after an event such as ground­ing, even if there is no dam­age then found.’

Yacht­mas­ter ex­am­iner John Simp­son, felt, how­ever, that Mr Innes may be be­ing made a scape­goat: ‘The yacht­ing in­dus­try needs to take some blame for build­ing boats that risk this kind of keel loss.’

Cheeki Rafiki had mul­ti­ple ground­ing in­ci­dents prior to her keel loss and cap­size in the At­lantic

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