Yacht manager acquitted of manslaughter charges

Yacht manager Doug Innes, the director of yacht management firm Stormforce Coaching, has been cleared of manslaughter charges brought as a result of the death of four sailors in 2014.

Four UK men – two in their 20s and two in their 50s – were killed when the 40-foot Cheeki Rafiki capsized in the Atlantic in May 2014 while returning across the Atlantic Ocean to Southampton from Antigua. Their bodies were never found.

Innes had been accused of failing to have the yacht properly checked ahead of its voyage and failing to ensure that its certification was in date for the intended trip. He was found not guilty on four charges of gross negligence manslaughter at Winchester Crown Court.

In June 2017, a jury at Winchester Crown Court found him guilty of failing to ensure the vessel was operated in a safe manner under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, but they failed to reach a verdict on the four charges of gross negligence manslaughter. A retrial was ordered, which began in February this year. Sentencing for the previous guilty verdict is scheduled for May 11th.

During the voyage Innes received an urgent email from one of the men on board the Cheeki Rafiki stating there were problems and water was coming in. He received a second message a little later saying the situation had got worse.

Innes returned home, called the UK Coastguard at Falmouth and emailed the crew suggesting they check the bolts of the keel. The court heard that a number of bolts had failed before the yacht had left the UK in October 2013 en route to Antigua. It was the failure of those bolts that eventually caused the keel to detach from the yacht, at which point she was in mid-Atlantic more than 700 miles from Nova Scotia in Canada. A catastrophic capsize resulted.