Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Roland Wilson: Cowes Week yacht crash skipper guilty

A Royal Navy officer who was skippering a racing yacht that hit an oil tanker in the Solent has been found guilty of contravening maritime regulations.

The Atalanta of Chester, belonging to Lt Roland Wilson, of Stanley, Perthshire, collided with the 260m-long Hanne Knutsen during Cowes Week 2011.

The 32-year-old was convicted at Southampton Magistrates' Court of impeding the passage of a vessel.

He was also found guilty of failing to keep a proper lookout.

Mr Wilson, who was a serving Royal Navy officer at the time but is now a lieutenant in the reserves, had seen the tanker from five miles (8km) away, the court heard.

Image caption Wilson was a serving Royal Navy officer at the time of the collision in August 2011

It had been making its way to Fawley oil refinery. Wilson had told the court the ship had signalled to turn but never did, describing its manoeuvre as "unexpected".

District Judge Anthony Callaway said he took the wrong decision in continuing towards the path of the tanker and not taking evasive action.

The moment of impact was filmed and the video posted on YouTube, where it was watched more than 924,000 times.

Mr Callaway said: "Fortuitous it was that there was no loss of life. The potential for even greater and tragic consequence is, in my judgement, apparent.

'£100,000 costs'

"This was a serious yacht crewed by serious people in a regatta for a serious purpose. It was well equipped in terms of experience and ability to deal with any situation.

"This was not some Saturday afternoon jaunt by some inadequate vessel crewed by inexperienced, clueless and foolhardy people who frankly have no business being on the water at all.

"The yacht took a decision, and as I find the wrong decision, to sail towards the problem into the path of the tanker across a narrow channel. It should have kept clear and in the worst event used her engine."

The judge said conditions in the Solent were crowded due to Cowes Week but the yacht's crew were experienced enough to perform the "difficult manoeuvre".

He added: "The fact it didn't do so was the product not of a lack of skill, but the product of the wrong decision at the wrong time, for which the skipper, Roland Wilson, must take responsibility."

Cowes Week sailing director Stuart Quarrie witnessed the collision from the shore.

He said: "It developed very quickly and at the time, there was no idea if anyone was seriously hurt.

"Thankfully, the injuries sustained were relatively minor.

"I don't think there's any long-term damage to the relationship between the regatta and the port authorities from this incident because of the professional manner in which it has been dealt with."

Mr Wilson was ordered to pay a fine of £3,000, and costs of more than £100,000.

The yacht, which had a crew of eight, suffered a damaged mast and its sail almost became entangled in the anchor of the Hanne Knutsen.

One crew member suffered minor head injuries and another abandoned ship after the collision with the 120,000-tonne tanker.

Mr Wilson was convicted of one count of failing to keep a proper lookout and two counts of impeding the passage of a tanker in a restricted channel.

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