Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Cheeki Rafiki deaths: Boss said firm had "strong ethos of safety"

James Male, Andrew Bridge, Steve Warren, Paul Goslin Image copyright Handout
Image caption Yachting crew members James Male, Andrew Bridge, Steve Warren and Paul Goslin all died

The head of a yacht management company, who denies manslaughter, said his firm always had a "strong ethos of safety".

Douglas Innes ran Stormforce Coaching and was responsible for the Cheeki Rafiki, which capsized in the mid-Atlantic killing all four crew members.

The 42-year-old of Whitworth Crescent, Southampton broke down in tears as he took the stand during his trial.

Winchester Crown Court heard he was "horrified" when the US Coastguard called off the rescue mission.

Image copyright US Navy/Reuters
Image caption The overturned hull of the Cheeki Rafiki was discovered by a US Navy warship east of Cape Cod

The yacht lost its keel as the crew were returning the 40ft vessel from Antigua to the UK in May 2014 when it got into trouble more than 700 miles from Nova Scotia.

The four crew members who died were skipper Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham in Surrey, James Male, 22, from Southampton, as well as Steve Warren, 52, and Paul Goslin, 56, both from Somerset.

Mr Innes was the sole director of Southampton-based Stormforce Coaching and when questioned on his company's approach towards safety he said: "Undoubtedly things have got to always be safe."

'Getting worse'

Mr Innes said he received a number of emails and phone calls from skipper and employee Andrew Bridge before the Cheeki Rafiki capsized discussing possible reasons the yacht was taking on more water.

He received a final call in the early hours of 16 May in which Mr Bridge said: "This is getting worse," before the Coastguard received a signal from the skipper's personal location beacon at 05:10 BST.

Later that morning Mr Innes contacted the four sailors' next of kin.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Douglas Innes also denies failing to operate the yacht in a safe manner

He told the court: "That's not something I was ever prepared for.

"The first phone call was very difficult, the hardest.

"I called James's mum and I couldn't get the words out.

"I just said, 'I think there may be a problem, your son may be in a life raft.'"

Mr Innes became emotional in the dock as he recounted how he had spoken to an expert on cold water shock to discuss the crew's survival chances.

Mr Innes, a married father-of-two, denies four counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.

He and his company Stormforce Coaching, also both deny failing to operate the Cheeki Rafiki in a safe manner between 18 March 2013 and 18 May 2014.

The trial continues.

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