“Rafiki” Yacht Manager Faces Manslaughter Charges

Douglas Innes, the manager of the ill-fated racing yacht Cheeki Rafiki, faced his first day in court Thursday on charges of manslaughter by gross negligence in the deaths of the vessel’s four crewmembers.

In opening remarks, prosecutor Nigel Lickley alleged that Innes "turned a blind eye for profit and cut corners to save costs.” Further, Lickley suggested that he “was responsible for the deaths and failed to do what a competent person in his position would do." Innes denies the allegations.

In May 2014, Innes hired four relatively new sailors – Andrew Bridge, Paul Goslin, James Male, and Steve Warren – to bring the Rafiki back to Southampton from Antigua. However, the Rafiki began taking on water midway through the voyage, and her crew called Innes to report the problem. Rafiki was later found hull-up, with her life raft on board but without her keel and without her crew.

Lickley contended that the loss of the yacht’s keel led to rapid capsize, likely throwing the crewmembers on deck clear of the boat and into the water. "What is clear from two of the emergency beacons used by Andrew Bridge and James Male is that they may have survived for some time, most probably in the water, that is until they were lost too,” Lickley told the jury.

An investigation later revealed that several of the Rafiki’s keel bolts had cracked, long before she set sail for Southampton.

Lickley detailed the specific reasons for the charges against Innes: a failure to hire a qualified surveyor to examine the boat before the trip; a failure to obtain a proper commercial use license for the vessel for offshore sailing; and a failure to take rapid action when the crew reported a distress situation. Innes was allegedly in a pub at the time he took the call, and Lickley told the jury that he proceeded to another pub before reporting the emergency to the authorities.

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