Douglas Innes of Stormforce Coaching Limited has been found guilty of failing to ensure the safety of yacht Cheeki Rafiki

14 July 2017 – Verdict

Douglas Innes, 42, has been convicted of failing to ensure the safety of the yacht Cheeki Rafiki.

The vessel capsized after losing its keel more than 700 miles from Nova Scotia in Canada on 16 May 2014, resulting in the deaths of four crewmembers.

Stormforce Coaching Limited was also found guilty of the same charge.

The jury at Winchester Crown Court convicted both with a majority of 10-1.

However, the jury failed to reach a verdict on the four charges of manslaughter by gross negligence, and they have been discharged by judge Mr Justice Dingemans.

During the trial, the prosecution had argued that the Cheeki Rafiki should have been inspected as part of her ‘mid-term’, or three-year inspection for Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) Category 2 charter coding [which had lapsed before the yacht left Antigua], and that the yacht should have been surveyed after groundings that occurred in 2011 and 2013.

They added that a reasonably competent and prudent managing agent would have had Cheeki Rafiki surveyed because of the yacht’s history. They said that Innes failed to have the yacht coded as Category 0, which does not restrict where a commercial vessel may operate. The craft had previously been coded under Category 2, which requires the vessel to remain within 60 miles of a safe haven when operating commercially.

The prosecution also argued that if the yacht had been coded as Category 0, she would have been surveyed before departure and would have carried a higher specification of safety equipment, including ‘float free’ liferafts, which deploy automatically.

Innes was emotionless when the verdict was read out.

Andrew Bridge, 22, James Male, 22, Steve Warren, 52, and Paul Goslin, 56 all lost their lives when the Beneteau 40.7 capsized on a return trip from Antigua Sailing Week to Southampton in May 2014. Their bodies have never been found.

 

11 July 2017

The jury in the trial of Douglas Innes and Stormforce Coaching, operators of the yacht Cheeki Rafiki that capsized mid-Atlantic in 2014 leading to the loss of four crew members, has retired to consider its verdict.

After more than a day of summing up from the judge, Mr Justice Dingemans, the jury at Winchester Crown Court will consider the evidence in the month-long trial relating to the deaths of Andrew Bridge, 22, James Male, 22, Steve Warren, 52, and Paul Goslin, 56. All four men died when the Beneteau 40.7 capsized on a return trip from Antigua Sailing Week to Southampton in May 2014.

Doug Innes, 42, the director of Stormforce Coaching Limited, denies four counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.

Innes and Stormforce Coaching also deny two further charges of failing to ensure the vessel was operated in a safe manner between 18 March 2013 and 18 May 2014, contrary to section 100 Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

The trial, which opened in early June, has heard from expert witnesses explaining maritime surveying and coding practices, yacht construction methods, navigation and passage planning, and composite debonding and metal corrosion processes.

Mr Justice Dingemans explained to jurors on Monday, 10 July, that the prosecution was required to prove that Douglas Innes owed the crew a duty of care, and that he had breached that duty by his actions or omissions.
The prosecution was also required to prove that any breach of duty contributed to the deaths of the crew, and that negligence was “not just serious but a gross departure” from the standard of a reasonably competent and prudent managing agent.

In his summing up of the prosecution case the judge said that Innes had breached his duty of care by failing to have the yacht inspected or surveyed before she set out on the Atlantic crossing.

The prosecution argued that the yacht should have been inspected as part of her ‘mid-term’, or three-year inspection for Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) Category 2 charter coding [which had lapsed before the yacht left Antigua], and that the yacht should have been surveyed after groundings that occurred in 2011 and 2013.

The prosecution added that a reasonably competent and prudent managing agent would have had Cheeki Rafiki surveyed because of the yacht’s background and future planned use, including the transatlantic return crossing. They said that Innes failed to have the yacht coded as Category 0, which does not restrict where a commercial vessel may operate. The craft had previously been coded under Category 2, which requires the vessel to remain within 60 miles of a safe haven when operating commercially.

The prosecution said that if the yacht had been coded as Category 0, she would have been surveyed before departure and would have carried a higher specification of safety equipment, including ‘float free’ liferafts, which deploy automatically.

In summing up the defence case Mr Justice Dingemans said that Innes did not have a duty to have the yacht surveyed before the Atlantic crossing because the mid-term inspection was only required if the yacht continued commercial operations.

The defence argued that Innes complied with the coding law by refunding guests who had paid for training days before Antigua Sailing Week, and that the yacht was not engaged on a commercial voyage on its return from Antigua in May 2014 thus did not require Category 0 coding.

The defence added that under coding regulations the yacht was not required to be surveyed after groundings unless they had caused major damage, or minor damage which compromised the safety of the vessel.

The judge later recapped evidence given about groundings during the trial, some of which took place before Stormforce began managing the yacht in 2011 and had resulted in repairs to the yacht’s keel and internal structure.

Three further groundings took place between 2011, when the Cheeki Rafiki was last surveyed for Stormforce Coaching, and 2013.

In 2011 the yacht hit Ryde Sands on a training day. Among the witnesses who gave evidence there was disagreement whether the yacht was going at around 2.5-3 knots through a tack, or at 5-6 knots. The court heard how the keel bolts were inspected for cracking afterwards and that the yacht was lifted out ten days later.

One incident which took place in 2013 was described as a low speed touch to the mud in Shamrock Quay, and another the same year as a minor grounding when the yacht drifted in Lymington River after the engine failed. The defence argued that a reasonably competent and prudent managing agent would not have had the yacht surveyed after any of the three later incidents.

Prosecutors said that the yacht was not structurally safe before leaving Antigua, that the keel matrix had begun debonding from the hull, and that the keel bolts, particularly bolt nine [the furthest aft full-size bolt] had failed.

The defence stated that these points are impossible to prove as the yacht could not be recovered. They also added that a mid-term inspection would have inspected equipment only, and is not a structural survey.

The court heard briefly about the victims. Douglas Innes had described skipper Andrew Bridge, 22, as one of the best sailors he had sailed with, and had spoken at Andrew Bridge’s memorial service.

James Male, also 22, was an intern at Stormforce Coaching, working almost seven days a week for no wages. He was described as being very excited about the Atlantic crossing, which he hoped would count towards his Yachtmaster certificate.

Paul Gosling, 56, a dental surgeon who was married with two children from a previous marriage, was described as an experienced sailor whose previous passages had included a crossing from Norway to Scotland.
The court heard that he came across as a nice and unassuming man.

Steven Warren, 52, who had two daughters and a step-daughter, was described as a loving man with a passion for sailing. He was best friends with Paul Gosling and his family and had worked as an electrical design engineer.

The jury retired on Tuesday, 11 July.

Reporting by YachtinWorld‘s Deputy Editor Helen, Fretter at Winchester Crown Court. Editing by Stef Bottinelli.

 

 

7 July 2017

James Male, Andrew Bridge, Steve Warren and Paul Goslin died when the Beneteau 40.7 Cheeki Rafiki capsized mid-Atlantic on a return trip from Antigua Sailing Week to Southampton. Douglas Innes, 42, of Stormforce Coaching Limited, which managed the yacht, denies four counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.

Innes and Stormforce Coaching also deny further charges of failing to ensure the vessel was operated in a safe manner between 18 March 2013 and 18 May 2014.

Innes told the court that he had suggested the yacht head to Bermuda, making a 200-300 mile detour, before refuelling and continuing. Innes said that delivery skipper Andrew Bridge replied: “I can’t see the chart for Bermuda so I don’t want to go in there.”

In his testimony Innes said he believes there was a chart for Bermuda on board at the time.

When asked about the route, Innes said: “Prior to this trial there was never any debate on the way back, you go round the Azores High to the north.
“I didn’t have a preconception of at which point they’d start heading east. The aim is to get north far enough that you have a likelihood of westerlies.”

The trial, which opened four weeks ago, has heard detailed evidence from expert witnesses explaining the surveying and coding processes.

The Cheeki Rafiki had a Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) Category 2 charter code, which meant it could only be sailed commercially within 60 miles of “a safe haven”. This code certificate had lapsed prior to the yacht’s departure from Antigua, at which point, Mr Innes told the court on Monday, 3 July, “We ceased commercial operations.”

Innes said: “We didn’t think an inspection would make the boat safer, we thought it would make the boat legal.”

Prosecutor Nigel Lickley QC said to Douglas Innes: “Prior to the capsize the problems were there to be found.”, to which Innes replied: “I don’t think another owner-operator, surveyor or five-year survey would have found them. I believe if there was a problem it was hidden from non-destructive testing.”

When asked about the yacht’s survey history, Innes said on Wednesday, 5 July: “If the MCA’s structural surveyor couldn’t find it (the problem) in 2011 (the date of the yacht’s last structural survey), then it was not visible by normal means.”

Yacht surveyor Julian Smith told the court on 5 July that had the Cheeki Rafiki been reassessed for its Category 2 code certification, it would not have been structurally tested during that inspection. “Percussion testing is not part of this inspection,” Smith said, “Keel bolt testing is not part of this”.

Describing the coding inspector’s role, Smith said: “We are like GPs, we take a broad view – we don’t pick up tools.”

The trial continues.

 

3 July 2017

42-year-old Douglas Innes broke down in tears when he described the events surrounding the deaths of four sailors on board the Cheeki Rafiki.

The director of Stormforce Coaching Limited, which managed the yacht, denies four counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.

Andrew Bridge, 22, James Male, 22, Steve Warren, 52 and Paul Goslin, 56 all died when the Cheeki Rafiki capsized after losing its keel more than 700 miles from Nova Scotia in Canada on 16 May 2014.

Innes told the jury at Winchester Crown Court that the initial email from Andrew Bridge, headed “Urgent”, was the skipper asking for advice about an intake of water. He had received the email while out drinking following a day’s sailing.

He stressed it was not an emergency call for help. Innes later received a satellite phone call from Andrew Bridge which resulted in him leaving the pub and returning home so he could contact the UK Coastguard.

Douglas Innes, the owner of Cheeki Rafiki in a blue suit and tie

Douglas Innes is facing four counts of manslaughter by gross negligence, which he denies. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Innes said he received a final call from Andrew Bridge in the early hours of the morning where he said the intake of water was “getting worse”.

The Coastguard then received a signal from the skipper’s personal location beacon at 5.10am.

Innes said he then decided to contact the four sailors’ next of kin.

“That’s not something I was ever prepared for, the first phone call was very difficult, the hardest, I called James’s mum and I couldn’t get the words out, I just said ‘I think there may be a problem, your son may be in a life raft’,” Innes told the court.

He said he was “horrified” what later that day, the US Coast Guard said it was calling off the search.

Innes, who has sailed since the age of six, said he worked “non-stop” to find other boats to continue the search for Cheeki Rafiki’s crew.

Continued below…

“I couldn’t comprehend how they could call off a search when it’s believed they were in a life raft,” he said. “We still believed they were alive, so the next couple of days there was a media frenzy.”

Initially, the search was called off on 18 May 2014 because it was assessed that after two days there was no chance the crew would have survived.

Pressure from the families and the British Government resulted in the White House National Security Advisor directing the search to continue on 20 May.

Despite the continued search, no trace of the four crew was ever found.

The court had earlier heard how the Cheeki Rafiki was “neglected and not maintained”, and that despite three years of hard racing and running aground three times, the yacht had also not been inspected by a qualified inspector before the trip.

Innes said that Stormforce Coaching had a “strong ethos of safety” and added: “The first thing we teach is safety before you get to go afloat.”

Innes said the Cheeki Rafiki had suffered two groundings before his company took control of it and once under its management but it underwent any necessary repairs.

Innes, of Whitworth Crescent, Southampton, and his company Stormforce Coaching, also both deny failing to operate the Cheeki Rafiki in a safe manner between March 18 2013, and May 18 2014.

The trial continues.

16 June 2017

Jurors at the Cheeki Rafiki manslaughter trial have heard that White House officials intervened to ensure the search for the four crew continued.

Andrew Bridge, 22, James Male, 22, Steve Warren, 52 and Paul Goslin, 56 all died when the Cheeki Rafiki capsized after losing its keel more than 700 miles from Nova Scotia in Canada on 16 May 2014.

Initially, the search was called off on 18 May 2014 because it was assessed that after two days there was no chance the crew would have survived.

But following calls from the families, media and the UK Foreign Office, the White House National Security Advisor directed the search to continue on 20 May.

Winchester Crown Court heard from Capt. Anthony Popiel of the US Coast Guard, who said the search operation had covered more than 4,000 nautical square miles.

He said that Cheeki Rafiki’s skipper, Andrew Bridge, had also activated his personal locator beacon.

Families hold up a posted of the Cheeki Rafiki victims

Families of the Cheeki Rafiki crew campaign to restart the search for their loved ones. Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

“We try to treat search and rescue like a search for a member of our own family. Suspending a search is always the most difficult decision we have to make,” Capt. Popiel told the court.

Douglas Innes from Stormforce Coaching, which managed the Cheeki Rafiki, faces four counts of manslaughter by gross negligence. He denies all of the charges.

The 42-year-old from Whitworth Crescent, and his company, Stormforce Coaching also deny failing to operate the Cheeki Rafiki in a safe manner between 18 March 18 2013 and 18 May 2014.

The jury has already heard in earlier evidence that the 40-foot yacht was “neglected and not maintained”, and that despite three years of hard racing and running aground three times, the Cheeki Rafiki had not been inspected by a qualified inspector before the fatal trip.

It was later found that a number of bolts had failed or broken, which caused the yacht’s keel to detach.

The trial continues.

12 June 2017

The father of 22-year-old James Male, who was one of four sailors who died when the Cheeki Rafiki capsized in the mid-Atlantic, has described the ordeal as “harrowing”.

Graham Male was giving evidence at the trial of Douglas Innes, 42, who is accused of four counts of manslaughter by gross negligence. He denies the charges.

Along with his company, Stormforce Coaching, Innes has also pleaded not guilty to failing to ensure the yacht was operated in a safe manner in accordance with section 100 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

The four men who died when the Cheeki Rafiki capsized in the mid Atlantic in May 2014

Paul Goslin, James Male, Steve Warren and Andrew Bridge. Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The jury at Winchester Crown Court heard that James Male was working as an unpaid intern for Stormforce Coaching, which managed the Cheeki Rafiki.

He had flown to Antigua to crew the yacht two weeks before sailing it back to the UK.

Male, along with skipper Andrew Bridge, 22, Steve Warren, 52, and Paul Goslin, 56, all died when the Cheeki Rafiki lost its keel while sailing between Antigua and Southampton.

A white yacht at anchor with Cheeki Rafiki written on its stern

The Cheeki Rafiki. Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Graham Male told the court that he had been contacted by Innes, who informed him that the yacht was in difficulty.

He said Innes seemed “perfectly calm” about the situation.

Male and his wife were also kept updated by the US Coast Guard about the search for the crew, and were sent a photo of the Cheeki Rafiki’s life-raft which was still onboard the capsized yacht.

“It was surreal, just seeing that life-raft, I just couldn’t believe it, I remember saying ‘I have seen enough’. It was harrowing, it was as if the photo was in slow motion, I remember going back to the family, I knew as soon as I saw that life-raft in there,” James Male’s father told the court.

An engineer, Male also told the jury that he had concerns about Stormforce Coaching after his son told him he used a “multi-tool” for work on the boat.

Last week, the court heard that the Cheeki Rafiki was “neglected and not maintained”, and that despite three years of hard racing and running aground three times, the yacht had also not been inspected by a qualified inspector before the trip.

Graham Male - the father of one of the Cheeki Rafiki victims

Graham Male.Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Cheeki Rafiki capsized after losing its keel more than 700 miles from Nova Scotia in Canada in May 2014.

It was later found that a number of bolts had failed or broken, which caused the keel to detach.

The trial continues.

8 June 2017

The prosecutor in the Cheeki Rafiki manslaughter case has told the jury at Winchester Crown Court that the yacht manager, Douglas Innes, failed to get the vessel checked ahead of its fatal last trip.

Andrew Bridge, 22, James Male, 22, Steve Warren, 52, and Paul Goslin, 56,  all died when the Cheeki Rafiki lost its keel while returning from Antigua Sailing Week to Southampton in May 2014.

Despite a search of the North Atlantic, the men were never found.

Innes, the director of Stormforce Coaching Limited, denies four counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.

He also denies a further charge of failing to operate the Cheeki Rafiki in a safe manner between 18 March 18 2013 and 18 May 2014.

Cheeki Rafiki

The upturned hull of the Cheeki Rafiki

Prosecutor Nigel Lickley QC told the court that Innes “was responsible for the deaths and failed to do what a competent person in his position would do”, adding: “He turned a blind eye for profit and cut corners to save costs.”

The court heard that the yacht, which was managed by Stormforce Coaching Limited, had a Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) category 2 charter code, which meant it could only be sailed up to 60 miles away from “a safe haven”.

Despite three years of hard racing and running aground three times, Cheeki Rafiki had also not been inspected by a qualified inspector before the trip, the jury heard.

Cheeki Rafiki lost its keel more than 700 miles from Nova Scotia in Canada.

Lickley also gave details of the events before the tragedy.

The jury heard that Cheeki Rafiki’s skipper Andrew Bridge had urgently emailed Innes when it became clear that the 40-foot yacht was taking on water and they were unable to identify the cause.

Innes, who was in the pub at the time, didn’t call the coastguard but went on to another pub and carried on drinking.

Mr Bridge then phoned Innes to say the situation onboard the yacht had got worse.

Innes then emailed the crew suggesting they checked the keel bolts. He also contacted the coastguard.

Lickley told the court that it was later found that a number of bolts had failed or broken, which cause the keel to detach.

“A number of keel bolts had broken, causing it to detach from the hull. Many were broken and it had been like that for months,” said Lickley.

“The yacht was therefore unsound, broken, and unsafe before the men left from Antigua.”

“The yacht was neglected and not maintained. As she was a commercial boat, she had experienced hard racing over three years and was not carefully looked after by Innes,” he stressed.

Innes also appears as a representative for Stormforce Coaching, which has also pleaded not guilty to failing to ensure the vessel was operated in a safe manner in accordance with section 100 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

The trial continues.

 

7 June 2017

Douglas Innes, the director of Stormforce Coaching Limited, will go on trial today for the manslaughter of four sailors who died when the Cheeki Rafiki capsized in the North Atlantic in May 2014.

The 40ft yacht was managed by the Southampton based company.

Cheeki Rafiki capsized in adverse weather conditions when the yacht’s keel detached from the hull. The vessel was returning from Antigua Sailing Week.

Crewmembers Andrew Bridge, 22, James Male, 22, Steve Warren, 52 and Paul Goslin, 56 all died as a result of the incident.

Innes of Whitworth Crescent, Southampton, denies four counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.

He also denies a further charge of failing to operate the Cheeki Rafiki in a safe manner between 18 March 18 2013 and 18 May 2014.

Innes also appears as a representative for Stormforce Coaching, which has also pleaded not guilty to failing to ensure the vessel was operated in a safe manner in accordance with section 100 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

The trial is being held at Winchester Crown Court.


5 December 2016

The director of Stormforce Coaching Limited, Douglas Innes, has pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter of four crew, who died when their yacht capsized in the North Atlantic.

The Cheeki Rafiki lost its keel when it was returning from Antigua Sailing Week in May 2014.

The crew –  Andrew Bridge, James Male, Steve Warren and Paul Goslin – all lost their lives.

Cheeki Rafiki was managed by Stormforce Coaching Limited.

Innes, 41, of Whitworth Crescent, Southampton, denied four counts of manslaughter by gross negligence when he appeared before Winchester Crown Court on 5 December 2016.

Along with his company, Stormforce Coaching, he also pleaded not guilty to failing to ensure the vessel was operated in a safe manner in accordance with section 100 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

The case has been adjourned for trial until 6 June, 2017.

 

3 November, 2016

The director of a firm that managed the Cheeki Rafiki has appeared in court charged with four counts of gross negligence manslaughter.

The yacht capsized in the North Atlantic in May 2014 after losing its keel.

The four crew – Andrew Bridge, James Male, Steve Warren and Paul Goslin – all lost their lives.

Douglas Innes, 41, of Whitworth Crescent, Southampton appeared before Southampton Magistrates’ Court on 3 November, 2016.

He is also charged, along with his company, Stormforce Coaching, with failing to ensure the vessel was operated in a safe manner in accordance with section 100 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

No plea was entered and Innes was bailed to appear at Winchester Crown Court on 5 December, 2016.

The families of the four men were all in court for the hearing.

The 40ft Cheeki Rafiki was returning from Antigua Sailing Week to Southampton when it foundered.

 

7 October, 2016

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) says that after a two year investigation into the sinking of the Cheeki Rafiki, the Crown Prosecution Service is to bring charges.

The MCA has been looking into the circumstances surrounding the loss of the Cheeki Rafiki after it sank in the North Atlantic with the loss of its crew in May 2014.

In a statement, the MCA said: “Following that extensive investigation, a decision has been made by the Crown Prosecution Service to bring charges against Douglas Innes and Stormforce Coaching Limited.”

Ian Harris, from the Crown Prosecution Service Wessex, said: “We have authorised the charging of Douglas Innes with four counts of gross negligence manslaughter and Douglas Innes and Stormforce Coaching Limited with one charge contrary to section 100 Merchant Shipping Act 1995.”

“These charges relate to the deaths of Andrew Bridge, James Male, Steve Warren and Paul Goslin in the North Atlantic in May 2014, following the loss of the keel on their yacht, the Cheeki Rafiki. The decision to charge was taken in accordance with the Code of Crown Prosecutors,” added Harris.

Douglas Innes and a representative of Stormforce Coaching Limited will appear at Southampton Magistrates court on the 3 November, 2016.

 

29 April, 2015

A report into the loss of the charter yacht Cheeki Rafiki has identified several factors that may have played a part in the tragic accident.

The report states that the most likely cause for the keel’s failure was a combined effect of previous groundings and subsequent repairs which may have weakened its structure.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has released its findings almost a year after the incident happened on May 16, 2014.

The vessel capsized in adverse weather conditions when the yacht’s keel detached from the hull, causing the vessel to flip upside down within a matter of seconds.

Crewmembers Andrew Bridge, 22, James Male, 22, Steve Warren, 52 and Paul Goslin 56 were all lost as a result of the incident, despite extensive searches by rescue crews.

During the rescue effort, the vessel’s hull was found and divers searched the yacht but they were unable to locate any crew.

While on board they discovered that the vessel’s liferaft was still stored in its original position, aft of the helm position, in accordance with the vessel’s design.

In the days leading up to the keel’s failure, skipper Andrew Bridge had reported to Storm Coaching Ltd that Cheeki Rafiki was taking on water in worsening weather and they were unable to identify the cause of the ingress.

The crew, who had been on a non-stop passage to Southampton from Antigua, had planned to divert to the Azores following the discovery but the vessel’s structure failed before they could reach the location.

Cheeki Rafiki

In the report, the MAIB said: “In the absence of survivors and material evidence, the causes of the accident remain a matter of some speculation. However, it is concluded that Cheeki Rafiki capsized and inverted following a detachment of its keel.

“In the absence of any apparent damage to the hull or rudder other than that directly associated with keel detachment, it is unlikely that the vessel had struck a submerged object.

“Instead, a combined effect of previous groundings and subsequent repairs to its keel and matrix had possibly weakened the vessel’s structure where the keel was attached to the hull.

“It is also possible that one or more keel bolts had deteriorated. A consequential loss of strength may have allowed movement of the keel, which would have been exacerbated by increased transverse loading through sailing in worsening sea conditions.”

Cheeki Rafiki had previously grounded twice in 2007 and after each incident the yacht was inspected and repaired. The vessel also went on to ground at least four more times, however they were described as ‘light’.

Although much significance may not have been placed on these additional groundings at the time, the MAIB report goes on to state that it is possible that some of those ‘light’ groundings could have significantly affected the integrity of the matrix attachment in way of the keel.

They also said that it was possible further unreported ‘light’ groundings could have occurred, only increasing the likelihood that the keel attachment structure had been weakened.

Keel

Another contributing factor to the accident may have been that the vessel’s category 2 certification was allowed to lapse, meaning no authorised person had examined the yacht since its coding survey in 2011.

“It is possible that any indications of a potential structural problem might have been identified had the annual examinations required by the SCV Code been conducted”, said the report.

The MAIB investigation also identified that skipper Andrew Bridge had limited ocean experience and was the only crew member who held an RYA/MCA Yachtmaster Ocean or Yachtmaster Offshore certificate of competence.

If another member of the crew had the same qualifications, the skipper could have consulted with them on the passage, weather and subsequent events.

Anther contributing factor to the loss of Cheeki Rafiki was the weather. Forecast data in the days leading up to the incident showed that the crew experienced winds of force 7 and waves almost 5m high.

In an email, the skipper described how Cheeki Rafiki had started taking on water after hitting a big wave.

“Whether or not the ‘big wave’ on 14 May weakened the vessel’s structure sufficiently to initiate the water ingress is uncertain. However, without evidence to indicate otherwise, it is concluded that the cause of the water ingress was related to the worsening weather conditions”, said the report.

Cheeki Rafiki

As a result of the investigation a number of bodies have been given recommendations to help prevent similar accidents in the future.

The yacht’s operator, Stormforce Coaching Ltd, has made changes to its internal policies and has taken a number of actions aimed at preventing a recurrence.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) will work with the RYA to clarify the requirements for stowing liferafts on coded vessels. The RYA has also drafted enhancements to its Sea Survival Handbook relating to the possibility of a keel failure.

The BMF has been advised to co-ordinate industry-wide best practice guidance on the inspection and repair of yachts where a glass reinforced plastic matrix and hull have been bonded together.
Another recommendation has also been made to the MCA to provide more explicit guidance about circumstances under which commercial certification for small vessels is required, and when it is not.

Further recommendations have been made to sport governing bodies with regard to raise awareness in the yachting community of the potential damage caused by any grounding, and the factors to be taken into consideration when planning ocean passages.

MAIB chief inspector Steve Clinch said: “I hope that this report will serve as a reminder to all yacht operators, skippers and crews of the particular dangers associated with conducting ocean passages, and the need for comprehensive planning and preparation before undertaking such ventures.

“On long offshore passages, search and rescue support cannot be relied upon in the same way as it is when operating closer to the coast, and yachts’ crews need a much higher degree of self-sufficiency in the event of an emergency.

“Thus the selection and stowage of safety and survival equipment needs to be very carefully considered before embarking, together with options for contingency planning and self-help in anticipation of problems that could occur during the passage.”

 

 

  • Mike

    The tragic loss of the Cheeki Rafiki and crew should be a very stark reminder of how dangerous the North Atlanic is. To have made that crosing in an uncertified vessel and inexperienced skipper is beyond excuse. Yacht people should get real – don’t mess with the sea!
    Written by a retired master mariner (Class 1) who crossed the North Atlantic many times on a ship in both directions.
    Mike