Yachtsman Roland Wilson defends his crews actions during Cowes Week collision

PBO contributor
James Stevens’ latest report from the trial of a yachtsman accused
of flouting maritime law.

Royal Navy
lieutenant Roland Wilson’s Corby 33 yacht Atalanta was involved in a collision with a
120,000-ton Hanne Knutsen tanker during Cowes Week 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.

After six days of waiting the
defendant and yacht skipper Roland Wilson took the stand.

His defence was that he took
the correct action because 1) he could always see the port side of the ship and
intended to pass port to port and 2), and that the ship had indicated a
starboard turn but had stood on before making it.

Caught out by ship’s ‘unexpected

Wilson is 32, and at the time of
the accident was a serving Lt RN having trained as a bridge watchkeeper and
navigator. He has sailed since childhood in yachts and dinghies and owned the
Corby 33 for about a year before the accident. He was fully aware of the race
instructions and Southampton bylaws concerning the Precautionary area and the
Moving Prohibited Zone and the Colregs. He said that he did not take
unnecessary risks.

He saw the ship several miles
away and realised the yacht and the ship would both be in the precautionary
area at the same time. He had two options, to head north on port tack towards
the mainland shore or to head towards the island shore on starboard tack. He
chose the latter because it would have meant passing the ship port to port and
not across its bow. He was confident that he would sail clear but was caught by
the unexpected manoeuvre of the ship

There was an important
discrepancy between his statement that he could always see the port side of the
ship and the MCAs reconstruction from GPS and radar data which showed the yacht
clearly on the ship’s starboard side. When questioned on this Wilson said the
port side was ‘how I saw it’.

‘Blindingly obvious’ risk of collision

Simon Row summing up for the
prosecution suggested that the crew of Atalanta had taken actions on what they
thought ship was going to do
rather than what the ship actually did. He said it
should have been blindingly obvious a risk of collision existed.

He added that if Wilson’s submission about
the relative positions were true all Atlanta would have had to do was
turn further south. It was wrong to assume the escort boat leads the ship. The
delay of the ship’s starboard turn was only 25 seconds, even without that delay
the yacht was too close.

Rufus Taylor started the
defence summary by questioning whether the prosecution was in the public
interest given that no one was seriously hurt and this was the first accident
of this type in 20 years. He explained that the Wilson had based his decisions
on advice from Mike Shrives, his navigator with 41 years of experience and it
was wrong and unjust to hold the skipper responsible.

He blamed the accident on the
excessive speed of the Hanne Knutsen about 9.4 knots which he said contravened
rule 6 given the density of traffic, the breakdown of the motor yacht Joy C and
the failure of the escort boat to police the precautionary zone. The
reconstruction did not tell the whole story because it did not include all the
other vessels and he said that Wilson was not charged with breaching Rule 7. Mr Taylor also blamed the inadequate lookout on the ship.

Finally the judge said that a
key question in this case is whether the reconstruction is accurate, if it is,
the yacht was on the starboard side of the tanker.

The trial is expected to conclude tomorrow.

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

Photos:courtesy of Tim Addison at