Roland Wilson is found guilty of breaching international maritime law during Cowes Week 2011

The skipper of a racing yacht has been made to pay over £100,000 in fines and costs after colliding with a 120,000 ton tanker in the Solent.

Royal Navy lieutenant Roland Wilson was today found guilty of breaching international maritime law at West Hampshire Magistrates’ Court.

Wilson’s Corby 33 yacht Atalanta crashed into a 120,000-ton Hanne Knutsen tanker in the Solent during Cowes Week 2011.

The court ruled that Wilson contravened three Colregs – Convention on the International Regulations for
Preventing Collisions at Sea:

Rule 5; He did not keep an adequate lookout.

Rule 9b; He impeded a large vessel in a narrow channel.

Rule 18; He impeded a vessel constrained by its draft.

What happened?

On 6 August 2011, the yacht ‘Atalanta of Chester‘ was taking part in the first day of racing at Cowes Week. Heading towards Southampton Docks was the tanker ‘Hanne Knutsen‘.

Skipper Roland Wilson, who at the time was a Royal Navy Lieutenant, said he spotted the red tanker when it was five miles away. However, the yacht sailed into the moving exclusion zone protecting the ‘Hanne Knutsen‘.

Fearing for his safety, a crew member on board the yacht then jumped overboard moments before they collided with the front of the tanker.

The yacht’s rigging then got caught up on the tanker’s anchor causing the mast to collapse onto to the head of one of the crew. He later was taken to hospital but wasn’t seriously injured.

32-year-old Roland Wilson, of Perthshire, Scotland, was today found guilty of failing to keep a proper lookout, and impeding a vessel using a narrow channel. He was fined £3,000, ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £15, and made to pay costs of £100,056.68.

The Armed Forces Legal Aid Authority is part-funding Wilson’s defence.

Lucky there was no loss of life

In passing sentence, Judge Anthony Callaway 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.

Click here for a reconstruction video of the collision.

A detailed report of the trial will be published in the December 2013 issue of PBO, published in early November.

Photos:courtesy of Tim Addison at