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British yacht skipper found guilty after collision with tanker

by Sail-World Cruising round-up on 26 Oct 2013
Hanne Knutsen and the incident that has resulted in a guilty verdict for the skipper of the yacht SW
A British skipper who argued that the large tanker Hanne Knutsen had sounded its horn to indicate it was to turn to starboard but then did not carry out the manoeuvre, leaving him in a dangerous position in front of the vessel, has nevertheless been found guilty of contravening maritime regulations.

The Royal Navy officer who was in charge of a yacht which collided with an oil tanker during Britain's Cowes Week in the Solent has been found guilty of three counts of contravening the regulations.

Roland Wilson, a lieutenant in the RN Reserves, was convicted of failing to keep a proper lookout and two counts of impeding the passage of a vessel following a five-day trial at Southampton Magistrates' Court.

The court heard that the 32-year-old was in charge of the 33ft (19.8m) yacht Atalanta of Chester which was in collision with the 869ft (265m) Hanne Knutsen on the first day of the sailing regatta in August 2011, and watched from the shore by around 100,000 spectators, despite his having seen the tanker from five miles (8km) away.

Footage of the incident, in which one crew member suffered minor head injuries and another abandoned ship, was posted on YouTube and has been viewed more than 900,000 times.

During the trial, Charles Row, prosecuting, claimed that Wilson, who owned and skippered the yacht, sailed his boat, which had seven other crew members on board, 'perilously' into the path of the 138ft (42m) wide Hanne Knutsen.

Mr Row said Wilson failed to comply with maritime regulations which required him to maintain a moving prohibited zone (MPZ) of 1,094 yards (1,000m) in front and 109 yards (100m) either side of a vessel greater than 492ft (150m) long.

Wilson told the court that the tanker had sounded its horn to indicate it was to turn to starboard but then did not carry out the manoeuvre, leaving him in a dangerous position in front of the vessel.

The trial heard that a motor vessel, the Joy C, had lost power and caused the Hanne Knutsen to change its intended course.

Wilson, a physics graduate from Durham University, told the court he joined the Royal Navy in 2006 and left in February this year but still remains a reservist.

He said he had a short-lived position at financial services company Credit Suisse after he left the Navy until the impending court case came to light. He said he is now working on new designs for inflatable boats.

He was fined £3,000, ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £15, and made to pay costs of £100,056.68.

In passing sentence, Judge Anthony Calloway said:

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

'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.'

Captain Jeremy Smart, Head of Enforcement with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said:

'Compliance with the international regulations avoids collisions. It was very fortunate that Mr Wilson’s actions did not result in very tragic consequences. This case should serve as a reminder to all who use the water that a good lookout, a full appraisal of the situation and early action is essential to avoid incidents like this occurring.'
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