England

Yacht delivery firm accused of negligence

Nick Irving
Image caption Nick Irving denies putting pressure on skippers

A British yacht delivery company has been accused of negligence, resulting in the deaths of five sailors.

Family and survivors claim Nick Irving, boss of Farnborough-based Reliance Yacht Management, pressured skippers to sail into bad weather against their better judgment, with the loss of three boats.

In a special investigation, BBC Inside Out South has discovered Reliance ignored warnings about likely sea conditions and strong winds.

Reliance, based in Farnborough, Hampshire, delivers yachts across the world for both private and commercial clients.

Successful lawsuit

Skippers are contracted to carry out the deliveries on behalf of Reliance.

Crew are often unpaid, but use the delivery as an opportunity to gain experience and build up their sea miles.

John Anstess, from Plymouth, Devon, and his crew, Dave Rodman and Richard Beckman, died in December 2006 when the 44ft (13.4m) catamaran Catshot was wrecked in a huge storm off the north west coast of America.

Emails sent by Reliance are alleged to have put pressure on Mr Anstess.

He had suggested over-wintering the boat in San Diego, California or taking an alternative, safer route.

But the BBC has evidence his protests were dismissed.

Image caption John Anstess's request to take a safer route was dismissed

Only two weeks before Catshot was lost, Mr Irving sent an email telling Mr Anstess he was "making too much" of the weather and wrote that the "client will go ballistic" if he took a route via Hawaii.

Wendy Wood, sister of John Anstess, successfully sued Reliance for negligence.

The judgment was damning. It concluded the pressure from Reliance on Mr Anstess directly caused the loss of skipper and crew.

Only two months after the loss of Catshot, another Reliance delivery vessel was sailing across the Atlantic towards Miami, Florida, in what should have been an easy passage at that time of year.

Crew member Kevin Klinges said the instructions from Reliance made it quite clear to skipper Steve Hobley, from Newton Abbot, Devon, that if he failed to take a diversion, he would not work for the company again.

The 38ft (11.5m) catamaran was overwhelmed by 45ft (13.8m) waves and capsized. Mr Hobley died from hypothermia.

Crew member Kevin Klinges, from Idaho, USA, and Ollie Templeman, from Poole, Dorset, were rescued by a US Coastguard helicopter after an 11-hour ordeal.

Image caption Alasdair Crawford died after the boat he was on got caught in storms in the Bay of Biscay

Mr Hobley's daughter, Fran Bridle, said: "Having nothing back of Dad leaves a wound.

"It's like someone walks out of your life when you are in mid-conversation. It's the most awful thing."

These two tragedies were preceded by the loss of another Reliance boat in the Bay of Biscay in December 2003. Skipper Alasdair Crawford died after the 49ft (15m) yacht was rolled in a Force 10 storm.

The BBC has seen evidence which shows that Mr Irving embellished a skipper's CV to impress boat owners and insurance companies. About 10,000 miles (16,100km) were added, which almost trebled the skipper's seagoing experience.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency asked the Crown Prosecution Service whether criminal proceedings could follow from the death of John Anstess. But because Catshot was foreign registered, neither organisation was able to act.

Mr Irving denies putting pressure on skippers. He said his skippers were highly professional and were given 24-hour support.

He said: "The business has been operating for over 25 years and, over that time, we have moved thousands of yachts safely to all parts of the world."

Mr Irving refused to give the BBC an interview and failed to answer specific questions about the emails.

Find out more on Inside Out South, Inside Out South East and Inside Out South West, BBC 1, Monday 16 January at 19:30.

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