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Cheeki Rafiki's Manager Acquitted of Manslaughter Charges

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The Rafiki's upturned hull, May 23, 2014 (USCG)

By MarEx 2018-04-25 17:39:00

The manager of the ill-fated yacht Cheeki Rafiki has been found not guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence in relation to the deaths of her crew. 

The Rafiki, a Benetau First 40.7 sailing yacht, was undertaking an eastbound Atlantic crossing in May 2014 when it began taking on water in deteriorating weather. In the early hours of May 16, the Rafiki's EPIRB went off, triggering a search. A U.S. Navy vessel located her upturned hull on May 23, with the life raft still aboard and the keel missing. Her crew - skipper Andrew Bridge, 22, James Male, 22, Steve Warren, 52, and Paul Goslin, 56, all British nationals - were never found. 

The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch determined that the Rafiki capsized as a result of the loss of her keel. As her hull showed no signs of impact damage, the likely cause of the detachment was "a combined effect of previous groundings and subsequent repairs to its keel and matrix," MAIB found. The agency established that the vessel had suffered three groundings in the past, some of which were followed by repairs and inspections. In addition, one or more of the keel bolts may have deteriorated, leading to movement of the keel, which would have worsened as the sea state deteriorated. 

In a trial last year, the Rafiki's manager, Douglas Innes, was convicted of failing to operate the yacht in a safe manner. In that proceeding, the jury could not reach a verdict on four additional charges of manslaughter by gross negligence. These additional charges were scheduled for retrial, and on Tuesday, a jury at Winchester Crown Court found Innes not guilty on all four counts. 

After delivering its verdict, the jury took the unusual step of asking for permission to comment on the UK marine safety rules for yachts. “We are deeply concerned by the evidence we have heard about the regulations involved in this case. Pleasure and commercial regulations need to be clarified,” they wrote in a note to the judge. 

Sir Alan Massey, the head of the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency, told media that his agency would conduct a review. "We are going to follow those up. Of course, if we need to review or even amend the terms of that guidance notice, we will," he said. “[We need to] look and ask ourselves ‘is there enough legal force in these regulations as they stand to be able to follow through cases of non-compliance?’”

Douglas Innes still faces sentencing for his earlier conviction for failing to operate the Rafiki in a safe manner. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 11.