Simon Speirs: Inquiry wanted into sailor's death at sea

Simon Speirs Image copyright Clipper
Image caption Simon Speirs fell as crew attempted to lower a sail in rough conditions in November 2017

The organisers of a round-the-world yacht race have called for an independent inquiry following the death and burial of a sailor at sea.

Simon Speirs fell overboard during the Clipper Ventures event from South Africa to Australia in November 2017.

His family said he was buried at sea against their wishes and they had been told a vessel was close enough to take his body to shore for repatriation.

But the company claims new evidence disputes that.

Mr Speirs, a 60-year-old retired solicitor from Bristol, fell from the Clipper 70 yacht as the crew attempted to lower a sail in rough conditions 1,500 miles west of Fremantle in Australia.

He was recovered from the water but could not be revived, and was buried at sea less than 24 hours later.

His son, Mike Speirs, said the family was told by Clipper Ventures this was the only option, because a support vessel was too far away to collect his body.

But an official from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) had repeatedly told the family a ship had been close enough, he added.

Family 'misled'

Investigations into Mr Speirs' death were carried out by the Maritime Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) and the MCA.

But Clipper Ventures now wants a government inquiry into the way those investigations were conducted.

The company said the MCA now acknowledged it had been right to hold the burial at sea, and the family had been misled about the possibility of repatriation.

In a statement, the MCA confirmed it is investigating the role of a member of its staff, who had resigned for unrelated reasons.

"It is now clear that the nearest support vessel was 1,500 nautical miles away," it said.

The MCA said it felt it "necessary" to remind Clipper Ventures about "reporting obligations and required procedures" in the event of a death at sea.

Clipper Ventures disputes MCA suggestions that it did not follow the correct procedures.

Image copyright Family photo
Image caption Mr Speirs' wife Margaret said the family want reassurances about safety recommendations following his death

Mr Speirs wife Margaret said the family's priority was to ensure recommended safety procedures were implemented.

"With another race due to leave in less than three weeks, our reason is to ensure that Clipper Ventures has acted on all of the matters of concern highlighted in the recent (and all previous) accident MAIB reports, and that race participants and sponsors are fully aware of the risks of taking part in the race," she said.

An MAIB report in June 2019 made a series of recommendations, which Clipper Ventures said it had carried out.

A spokesperson for the investigating branch said it had yet to formally hear that from the company.

The Department for Transport it was confident the investigations carried out by the MCA and MAIB were independent and thorough with the aim of improving future safety.

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