Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Cheeki Rafiki yacht boss given suspended sentence over unsafe vessel

James Male, Andrew Bridge, Steve Warren, Paul Goslin Image copyright Other
Image caption (L-R) Crew members James Male, Andrew Bridge, Steve Warren and Paul Goslin all died

A company boss who failed to safely operate a yacht on which four sailors were killed has been given a suspended prison sentence.

The crew of the Cheeki Rafiki died after the 40ft vessel lost its keel and capsized in the Atlantic in May 2014.

Douglas Innes, 43, and his business Stormforce Coaching Limited were found guilty of failing to operate the yacht in a safe manner.

He was given a 15-month jail term, suspended for two years.

At Winchester Crown Court, Stormforce Coaching Limited - which has since been put into liquidation - was fined £50,000.

Innes, of Southampton, had previously been cleared of four counts of manslaughter by gross negligence following a retrial.

The four men on board - skipper Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham in Surrey, James Male, 22, from Romsey in Hampshire, Steve Warren, 52, from Bridgwater in Somerset and Paul Goslin, 56, from West Camel in Somerset - were travelling back to the UK when the vessel lost its keel.

The crew's bodies were never found.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Douglas Innes, who ran Stormforce Coaching, was given a suspended sentence

Sentencing Innes, Mr Justice Nigel Teare told him that "cost-cutting" had led his actions.

He added: "The failure to have the yacht surveyed was a serious act of negligence."

"This was a small yacht about to cross the Atlantic alone having not been independently examined for over three years. Those circumstances give rise to a risk of death."

Mr Justice Teare called on the maritime regulatory authorities to tighten the rules governing the inspection of yachts.

He said that Innes was unaware of a fault with a bolt and that a survey of the vessel, which went missing more than 700 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia, may not have identified the problem.

Katy Ware, a director of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), said she had "personally pledged to the families" that rules would change as a result of this case.

She added: "There are a number of grey areas. It's really important that we make it clear to industry how they operate those vessels and make sure they are safe for everyone travelling on board."

Image copyright SWNS
Image caption The Cheeki Rafiki had been on its way to Southampton from Antigua Sailing Week

The court had earlier been told that an email had been sent by the crew warning Mr Innes their yacht - named after a character in the Lion King - was taking on water in bad weather.

He replied advising the sailors to make sure the life raft was ready and later phoned the UK Coastguard.

The US Coastguard was criticised for calling off its search for the stricken vessel after two days, but it was restarted following intervention by the British government.

The yacht was eventually found on 17 May 2014 with the life raft but with no sign of the four men.

Reading an impact statement in court, Adele Miller fought back tears as she described her boyfriend James Male as "wise beyond his years".

"My life and my future has crumbled before me," she said. "Without him my life is less than incomplete."

Image copyright US Navy/Reuters
Image caption The overturned hull of the Cheeki Rafiki after it was discovered by a US Navy warship

A statement from Cressida Goslin, the widow of Paul Goslin, was read in court in which she said she had been left "lost, isolated and alone" by the tragedy.

"This accident and the loss of four loved and cherished men could so easily have been avoided," it said.

His daughter Claire Goslin said a "massive part of her died" with her father.

"Despite being a strong character, losing dad in this way has crushed me and I have to live the rest of my life with an emptiness that I can never fill," she said.

Mr Warren's partner Gloria Hamlet said in a statement: "Life as I knew it when I was happy and fulfilled no longer exists and never will again, my life will always be overshadowed by a deep sorrow from the loss of Steve."

In mitigation, defence counsel told the court that Innes's life had been "shattered" following the loss of his "friends and colleagues".

"He genuinely and profoundly understands the pain [the families] have suffered."

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