'Maintenance ongoing' on yacht before final voyage, court told

The boss of a yachting company has told a court that he had regularly maintained the Cheeki Rafiki yacht and had found no faults which could have led to it sinking mid-Atlantic killing all four men onboard.

The yacht 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.

Lost at sea were all four crew members who were skipper Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham in Surrey, with James Male, 22, from Southampton, as well as 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.

Douglas Innes denies the charges (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Douglas Innes denies the charges (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Douglas Innes, director of Stormforce Coaching Limited, is the subject of a retrial at Winchester Crown Court charged with four counts of manslaughter by gross negligence which he denies.

The 43-year-old, of Southampton, Hampshire, told the court that the Cheeki Rafiki had been regularly maintained and inspected with no evidence of damage to the keel.

He said: "The nature of yachting is that nearly every time they go out something arises.

"There are so many things on board, there is always little things cropping up, maintenance is ongoing."

Giving details of the maintenance programme, he said that the yacht was taken out of the water for nearly five months in early 2013 for the hull to be stripped back and repainted.

Mr Innes said no fault with the keel or hull had been found and added: "If the boat is out of the water for that period of time, I would have inspected it myself as well.

"If we had done (found a problem) we would have been on the phone to someone to help us straight away."

Paul Goslin, James Male, Steve Warren and Andrew Bridge died in the incident (Royal Yachting Association/PA)
Paul Goslin, James Male, Steve Warren and Andrew Bridge died in the incident (Royal Yachting Association/PA)

Mr Innes said that the yacht was scrubbed thoroughly prior to the yacht's final journey and no problems with the keel or hull were spotted.

He added that he had not been informed by the yacht's owners of the extent of damage caused when the Cheeki Rafiki had grounded on two earlier occasions.

Mr Innes said that he had only found out after the prosecution was launched following the fatal sailing and added: "I was not aware of the extent of the damage. This was quite upsetting."

The prosecution claims that the yacht, named after a character in The Lion King, had been "neglected" and had an undetected fault with bolts holding the three-tonne keel to the hull which then failed causing it to fall off during bad weather.

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