The jury at Winchester Crown Court has today found Mr Douglas Innes not guilty on four counts of manslaughter through gross negligence relating to the loss of the yacht Cheeki Rafiki.

The RYA welcomes the conclusion of this complex case and our thoughts remain with the families, friends and colleagues of all those involved.

Andrew Bridge (22) from Surrey, James Male (22) from Hampshire, Steve Warren (52) and Paul Goslin (56), both from Somerset, all died when the Cheeki Rafiki capsized in May 2014 while returning across the Atlantic Ocean to Southampton from Antigua Sailing Week. 

Whilst Cheeki Rafiki’s tragic passage was not part of RYA training activity, the delivery was arranged by Stormforce Coaching Ltd, which at the time of the incident was an RYA recognised training centre.  

In light of the previous guilty by majority verdict of breaching Section 100 of the Merchant Shipping Act (July 2017), the RYA immediately suspended recognition of Stormforce Coaching as an RYA Training Centre. 

The RYA also suspended and subsequently withdrew the status of Mr Innes as an RYA Advanced Powerboat Instructor; an RYA Yachtmaster Instructor Power; and, an RYA Yachtmaster Instructor Sail.  Sentencing for the previous guilty verdict is scheduled for 11am on Friday,11 May 2018. 

Tragic loss

Following today’s verdict, Sir Alan Massey, CEO of the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA), said: “This was a horrific and tragic incident in which four people lost their lives.  And of course, the impact of those losses on their families remains devastating. 

“The Maritime & Coastguard Agency carried out a thorough and extensive three-year investigation into and around the circumstances of the loss of yacht Cheeki Rafiki in May 2014. 

“Mr Innes was today acquitted on the gross negligence manslaughter charges by a jury and we respect that decision. However, he had been previously convicted for failing to operate the Cheeki Rafiki in a safe manner under the terms of the Merchant Shipping Act. 

“The sea can be an extremely hostile place. Make sure your vessel is safe, in strict accordance with its certification, and make sure it’s properly maintained and fit to be at sea.  You could otherwise find yourself facing serious charges in court.”

In response to the jury’s concerns about MGN280, the guidance note which governs the basic construction and operation of certain small vessels, Sir Alan added: “They have made some recommendations. We are going to follow those up. Of course, if we need to review or even amend the terms of that guidance notice, we will.” 

Our thoughts

Sarah Treseder, CEO of the Royal Yachting Association, commented: “The court has today made its ruling and we hope this will allow those concerned to find some form of closure to this tragic event.

“We welcome the MCA’s confirmation that it will be looking closely at MGN280. We hope that the review will provide more clarity in the guidance for all small commercial vessel operators and we also welcome the opportunity to contribute to the review process.

“Our thoughts, however, remain with the families, friends and colleagues of Andrew Bridge, Paul Goslin, James Male, and Steve Warren.”

Never forgotten  

Outside Winchester court today a spokesperson for the four 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.”  

Anyone with queries and concerns arising from this statement should contact askRYA@rya.org.uk