"The yacht could have taken any action except the one it did", says MCA chief examiner

PBO contributor

James Stevens’ latest report from the trial of a yachtsman accused

of flouting maritime law.

Royal Navy

lieutenant Roland Wilson’s yacht was involved in a collision with a

120,000-ton Hanne Knutsen tanker during Cowes Week 2011.

His Corby 33 yacht Atalanta was nearly rolled under the bow and was dismasted when the pink

spinnaker wrapped on the ship’s anchor on 6 August, 2011.

Wilson is charged with contravening 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.

Additionally he is

accused of breaching Rule 7 by failing to adequately determine a risk of

collision and Rule 8d as his actions did not result in his vessel passing a

safe distance from the ship.

The trial continued last Friday. Roger Towner, chief examiner of the Maritime and Coastguard

Agency (MCA) was among the witnesses to take to the stand.

He confirmed that

the Colregs apply in the Solent and that the Hanne Knutsen at 14.6m draught was

definitely constrained by its draught and in a narrow channel therefore should

not be impeded by small vessels.

Captain Towner explained

that it is sometimes necessary to make a departure from the rules in order to

avoid a collision.

In this case it

was acceptable for the ship to make a starboard sound signal then slow its turn

in view of the disabled motorboat in its path.

The yacht Atalanta

should have established that a risk of collision existed and taken early action

at an adequate distance. In his opinion the Hanne Knutson was proceeding toward

Gurnard buoy at a safe speed in the circumstances.

Captain Towner thought that if

Atlanta had continued on its easterly course it would have sailed clear. When

asked what the Atalanta should have done he said it could have taken almost any

action except the one it did. To sail across the bow was inexplicable.

Tanker ‘borderline speeding’

Richard Twitchen,

Commodore RN, had written an expert report. In his opinion the escort of one

boat was insufficient to police the prohibited zone. He thought the ship’s

speed was on the borderline of speeding.

He agreed the

Corby 33 was manoeuvrable and that if Atalanta had retained her Easterly course

there would have been no collision but maintained that had she done so she

would have passed across the ship’s bow from port to starboard. Slowing the

rate of turn was the cause of the accident.

Watch a video of the crash here.

The case continues

on Tuesday 22 October and runs until Friday 25 October.

A detailed report

of the trial will be published in the December 2013 issue of PBO.

(Pictures courtesy of Tim Addison at COWES.co.uk