The company director of Stormforce Coaching Limited has denied the manslaughter of four crew members who were killed when their yacht Cheeki Rafiki capsized in the North Atlantic.

At about 0400 on 16 May 2014 the UK registered yacht Cheeki Rafiki capsized approximately 720 miles east-south-east of Nova Scotia, Canada while on passage from Antigua to Southampton.

Despite two extensive searches that found the upturned hull of the yacht, the four crew remain missing: Skipper Andrew Bridge, aged 21, from Farnham, Surrey and crew Paul Goslin, 56, from West Camel, Somerset; Steve Warren, 52, from Bridgwater, Somerset and 22-year-old James Male from Romsey, Hampshire.

Cheeki Rafiki’s upturned hull taken by the crew of USS Oscar Austin in the afternoon of 23 May 2014. Courtesy of US Coast Guard

Cheeki Rafiki’s upturned hull taken by the crew of USS Oscar Austin in the afternoon of 23 May 2014. Courtesy of US Coast Guard

Douglas Innes, the company director of the yacht’s operator Stormforce Coaching Limited, pleaded not guilty to four counts of manslaughter by gross negligence when he appeared before Winchester Crown Court yesterday.

Mr Innes, 41, of Whitworth Crescent, Southampton, denied a further charge of failing to operate the Cheeki Rafiki in a safe manner between March 18 2013 and May 18 2014.

He also appeared as representative for Stormforce Coaching and entered a not guilty plea on behalf of the company to a charge of failing to ensure the vessel was operated in a safe manner contrary to section 100 Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

The case has been adjourned. The trial date has been set for 6 June 2017.

In the absence of survivors and material evidence, the causes of the accident remain a matter of some speculation. However, a Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report concluded that Cheeki Rafiki capsized and inverted following a detachment of its keel.

In the absence of any apparent damage to the hull or rudder other than that directly associated with keel detachment, it is unlikely that the vessel had struck a submerged object. Instead, a combined effect of previous groundings and subsequent repairs to its keel and matrix had possibly weakened the vessel’s structure where the keel was attached to the hull.

It is also possible that one or more keel bolts had deteriorated. A consequential loss of strength may have allowed movement of the keel, which would have been exacerbated by increased transverse loading through sailing in worsening sea conditions.

Following an earlier court hearing, relatives of the crew released a statement which said their lives had been ‘shattered and changed forever’ by the tragedy.