Man to be sentenced over Cheeki Rafiki yacht deaths

The director of a yachting management company is to be sentenced for failing to ensure the safety of four sailors who died when the Cheeki Rafiki yacht sank mid-Atlantic.

Douglas Innes, of Southampton, Hampshire, was acquitted of the manslaughter of the four men following a retrial in April.

But the 43-year-old and his company, Stormforce Coaching Limited, were convicted at the first trial held in July 2017 of failing to operate the yacht in a safe manner contrary to section 100 of the Merchant Shipping Act and are to be sentenced at Winchester Crown Court.

The Cheeki Rafiki, named after a character in the Lion King, lost its keel as the crew were returning the 40ft yacht from Antigua to the UK in May 2014 when it got into trouble 1,000 miles from the United States.

The Cheeki Rafiki yacht crew members (left to right) Paul Goslin, James Male, Steve Warren and Andrew Bridge (YHA/PA)
The Cheeki Rafiki yacht crew members (left to right) Paul Goslin, James Male, Steve Warren and Andrew Bridge (YHA/PA)

Lost at sea were all four crew members - skipper Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham in Surrey; James Male, 22, from Southampton; 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 re-started and the boat found but without any sign of the four men.

Prosecutor Nigel Lickley QC told the court the yacht had an undetected fault with bolts holding the three tonne keel to the hull, which then failed causing it to fall off during the bad weather during the voyage.

Mr Lickley said the yacht, which had grounded on two earlier occasions, had been "unsafe and unsound" because Innes had "neglected it" by not maintaining it or having it inspected for several years.

In contrast, Innes told the court the Cheeki Rafiki had been regularly maintained and inspected with no evidence of damage to the keel.

The Cheeki Rafiki capsized in the mid-Atlantic (RYA/PA)
The Cheeki Rafiki capsized in the mid-Atlantic (RYA/PA)

He said the yacht was taken out of the water for nearly five months in early 2013 for the hull to be stripped back and repainted as part of its maintenance programme and no fault with the keel or hull had been found.

After the verdicts, Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) chief executive Sir Alan Massey warned of the dangers of failing to maintain vessel safety and said the organisation would have to "look hard" at its "regulatory environment" and expressed sympathy for the bereaved relatives.

After the hearing, a spokesman for the families said: "We have lost our loved ones and our lives have been changed forever. Nothing was ever going to bring Andy, James, Paul and Steve back. They will never be forgotten.

"It is clear from the jury's comments that there is a need to tighten up marine guidance so that the regulations cannot be misinterpreted.

"This will help to make our seas a safer place...a fitting legacy for our four men."