Dredger officer Gerardus Chapel has admitted causing a devastating collision off the Suffolk coast which killed a yachtswoman

A Dutch seaman has admitted causing a devastating collision off the Suffolk coast which killed a yachtswoman in a freak accident this summer.

Gerardus Chapel was on the bridge of the 5,000-ton dredger Shoreway when it smashed into the 29ft yacht Orca killing Bernadine Ingram.

She’d been on board with her husband Peter when tragedy struck out of the blue.

Mrs Ingram, 57, known as Bernie, had been wearing a lifejacket as she sunbathed on deck when her cruiser was suddenly hit by the 321ft ship in crystal clear conditions.

A huge wave sparked by the crash slammed her into the galley, trapping her as the couple’s boat quickly sank in the North Sea about six miles off Felixstowe.

Chapel, of Papendrecht, Holland, yesterday pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to discharge his duties properly as the officer of the watch on the dredger, contrary to section 58(4) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

Mark Watson, prosecuting, said the tragedy happened at about 1.30pm on Sunday June 8. He told Ipswich Magistrates’ Court that Chapel was in charge of the Shoreway’s course when it collided with the Orca, with the Ingrams and their two border collies aboard.

The yacht was catastrophically holed in the hull and sank immediately. The Cypriot-registered dredger had been on its way out to sea at the time.

Mr Watson told magistrates: ‘There came a stage where it changed course slightly from the deep water channel and proceeded south into an area which is known to be frequented by sailing yachts, especially at the weekend.’

The Ingrams, who had set sail from Levington, near Ipswich, were returning home after going out to sea on a sunny day.

Mr Ingram was at the helm and saw the Shoreway in the distance, the court heard. It appeared to be in the deep water channel.

Mr Ingram, of Butley, near Woodbridge, Suffolk, was not heading towards the channel but was sailing parallel to it. He ducked below deck to go the toilet for no longer than a couple of minutes leaving his wife on deck at the back of the yacht.

Mr Ingram, who directs the Suffolk Better Broadband programme, went back up to find the massive dredger just feet away from his craft. The ship then hit the yacht; its starboard anchor holing the hull.

Mr Watson said: ‘The Orca was hulled pretty much amidships and began to take on water.’
Shell-shocked Mr Ingram was trapped in the cabin as it quickly filled with water.

He was only able to escape after a desperate struggle to save his life, the court heard.

Mr Ingram assumed his wife Bernie had been swept into the sea as she was on deck. But an enormous surge of water had dragged the doctor’s receptionist into the galley and she drowned as the yacht sank below the waves.

The accident triggered a full-scale sea search backed up by a rescue team from Felixstowe, two lifeboats from Harwich, one from Walton-on-the-Naze and two harbour boats from Harwich.

Mrs Ingram’s body was recovered from her wrecked boat the next day while one of her beloved pet dogs also died in the drama.

Ian Lawrie, QC, defending middle-aged Chapel, said the case centred on an “omission to do something” and came down to “human frailty”.

Magistrates committed the case to Ipswich Crown Court for sentencing on a date to be fixed and granted the experienced seaman on unconditional bail.

Tributes to Bernie Ingram

Bernie Ingram with her pet cat Gobi.

Bernie Ingram with her pet cat Gobi. Credit: Simon Parker/Archant

Much-loved Mrs Ingram had worked as a doctors’ receptionist at the Peninsula Practice in Orford, Suffolk, for 14 years.

She set up and ran a special support group for patients battling cancer.

Her devastated colleagues saluted the “love, kindness and care” Mrs Ingram gave patients and colleagues as they paid tribute to her at her funeral.

Councillor Mark Bee, leader of Suffolk County Council, said at the time: ‘We’re most saddened by her tragic death.

‘We’ve been in contact with Peter to offer our full support at this most difficult time.’